Frequently Asked Questions
We first learned of the blastomycosis fungal infections on March 3rd from the Public Health Delta & Menominee Counties (PHDM), the local health department in Escanaba, Michigan, after PHDM was notified by the local hospital of several atypical pneumonia infections in individuals who work at the Escanaba Mill.
The cause of these occurrences of atypical pneumonia and/or blastomycosis is currently not known. We are taking this matter very seriously and cooperating fully with public health experts as they investigate this situation.
At this time no Blastomyces spores have been found in the company’s Escanaba Mill and the investigation continues in collaboration with health authorities and experts.
We still have not identified the source of the Blastomyces. At this time, no Blastomyces spores have been found in the Escanaba Mill and the investigation continues in collaboration with health authorities and experts.
We resumed operations at the mill following a deep cleaning recommended by public health authorities and experts. At this time no Blastomyces spores have been found in the Escanaba Mill. The health and safety of our employees, contractors, and customers has been and remains our top priority, and as such, we continue to strongly encourage them to take precautions such as wearing fit-tested NIOSH-approved N95 masks provided by Billerud. We are continuing to work closely with and follow the recommendations of health experts as they continue to investigate this dynamic situation.
We have been in regular communication with both union leadership and health authorities and experts as we resumed operations at the mill, and both parties remain aligned with the approach.
We will continue to monitor this dynamic situation closely and adjust our approach as needed.
In the three weeks the mill was idled, and in conjunction with health authorities and experts, we went through an extensive and thorough cleaning process in which we have conducted deep cleaning in high traffic areas throughout the mill, inspected and cleaned ventilation systems to National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA) standards, and upgraded our filtering standards per NIOSH recommendations.
According to the CDC, fifty percent of people infected with blastomycosis are asymptomatic, and the incubation ranges from three weeks to three months after a person breathes in the spores, which means the only way to truly identify an accurate number of cases is through testing and advice of health professionals.
An increased number of positive test results does not automatically mean the issue is getting worse, it may just mean that more tests have been performed.
Our number one priority now, and always, is that everyone working at our facility remains safe and healthy.
Billerud has a strong health and benefits program to care for our employees. And, our mill nurse is in touch with all affected employees on a regular basis.
We have a team of people who are working with our employees through any health and benefits concerns carefully and thoughtfully.
Although it has not been confirmed that the source of these infections is the mill, we are accepting and processing employee claims under Workers Compensation as part of our continuing efforts to support our employees while the investigation continues.
Based on the scientific data and analysis undertaken, we believe it is unlikely that handling of dry paper products under normal and foreseeable conditions of use will expose workers or consumers for risks of infection with blastomycosis.
To date, Billerud has not found any documented, conclusive third-party evidence, that suggests blastomycosis is transmittable via surface contact. Billerud’s efforts to investigate this question include discourse with public agencies including the CDC, NIOSH, and others, as well as a review of publicly available medical research.
Furthermore, based on our industry knowledge, the paper-making process itself should make it very unlikely that handling of dry paper products would expose workers or consumers to the risk of infection with blastomycosis.