Fire At Lincoln Mill Fuels Concerns About Asbestos, Other Toxins

Nov 16, 2017

Firefighters who fought a massive blaze Wednesday at the former Lincoln paper mill await a specialist’s review to determine the hazards posed by the site’s heavy asbestos contamination.

The protective gear worn by firefighters from as many as 11 agencies might need replacement after the fire destroyed a scale shed and a 300-foot-long warehouse on Wednesday, according to Dan Summers, Lincoln’s public safety director.

Lincoln officials voted to seek a Superfund designation for the site earlier this year to handle the estimated $20 million cleanup of its asbestos, dioxin/furan, metals and Polychlorinated Biphenyls, or PCBs. All are cancer-causing pollutants.

“We don’t want to disturb them,” Summers said Thursday of the toxins.

The asbestos on-site, used as a common industrial fire insulant, was most prevalent — heavy enough to warrant the town’s attorney to call the site the worst he had seen in a 35-year career. The dioxin and PCBs came onto the site from pulp and papermaking processes.

It is unclear whether any cleanup occurred since the vote, in March, or how much protection firefighters got from the self-contained breathing apparatus they wear.

The site’s level of contamination is well-known — it is primarily of 262 acres of the 387-acre site — and no injuries were reported from the fire.

It is too early to determine whether the fire is of suspicious origin, according to Sgt. Scott Richardson of the state fire marshal’s office.

Richardson and another investigator will be on-scene Thursday for several hours, he said.

A demolition or salvage crew was on scene when the fires occurred, indicating the fire might have started accidentally, Summers has said.

The specialist, a worker or contractor from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, was en route, Summers said. Other DEP workers were already on-site.

A fire accidentally occurred at a defunct mill site in East Millinocket in in March, that, like Lincoln’s, was being worked on by a demolition crew. The fire broke out in a pile of “debris and junk,” officials said.

An East Millinocket town official labeled the fire “toxic” because of the high level of contaminants on-site, but no illnesses arising from them were reported.

The paper mill filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in September 2015, eventually laying off 128 workers employed there at the time. A boiler explosion in November 2013 left the mill leaking cash by ending Lincoln Paper’s ability to make pulp and paper.

The property’s owners sought bankruptcy court permission to begin marketing the site in August.

Firefighters from Burlington, East Millinocket, Howland, Lee, Lincoln, Lowell, Mattawamkeag, Milford, Passadumkeag and Springfield were on scene, as was the Maine Forest Service, Summers has said.

This story appears through a media sharing agreement with Bangor Daily News.