October 06, 2016 - 6:30 PM
KAMLOOPS - Dan Wudrick has lived in Kamloops for about 40 years and vividly remembers when the musky odour from the pulp mill would blanket the entire city.
“Back in the 1970s, it was really bad so they must have made some improvements,” he says.
He's referring to Domtar, the company which owns the mill. You can see the clouds of smoke billowing from the stack on the hillside into the sky most days.
Wudrick lives in the Juniper Ridge area of Kamloops while he says he can only smell the mill about twice a year, that's not exactly a consensus. One of the most talked about subjects on social media created from people in Kamloops, is the pulp mill and that smell.
One woman posted in a forum that she was moving to Kamloops and asked current residents to give pros and cons about living in the city. A man told her to move to Brocklehurst or the North Shore neighbourhoods if she wanted to smell the "pulp mill stink" constantly.
Another woman said the pulp mill "doesn't smell horrible constantly" but admits it has its bad days.
It's an issue residents have been dealing with since the mill was first built in 1965 by the Weyerhaueser Company. We went to Domtar to find out more about it and learned just how far the company goes to minimize that smell.
A SMELL AS OLD AS TIME
Jim Purcha has lived in the North Shore area of Kamloops for more than three decades and he says the smell from the pulp mill has been more noticeable over the past couple of months.
“Brock can be really bad,” he says. “It all depends on the direction of the wind.”
Purcha is right, according to Domtar’s environmental leader Kristin Dangelmaier. The smell has been more noticeable over the past two months, but it doesn’t mean the smell is worse than it’s ever been and the fact that has changed may be a sign the companies efforts are successful.
Dangelmaier says Domtar had some production issues this summer, mostly with the odour collectors in the smoke stack that reduced the smell of sulphur the public has to put up with during the treatment process of the pulp.
Sulphur is used in a chemical treatment called “white liquor,” which is part of the digestion process for the pulp.
“It’s an unfortunate by-product of the pulping process,” Dangelmaier says.
Dangelmaier says Purcha has a point when he says the smell seems to be stronger in Brock when the wind blows from the smoke stack into the valley.
She says when southwest winds are blowing, the smoke from the stack gets pulled into the valley. Rather than the emissions going up, they’ll get pulled into town.
“Sometimes things don’t work as they should,” Dangelmaier says.
IT DOESN’T SMELL AS BAD AS YOU THINK IT DOES
Dangelmaier says the company has made substantial improvements to the not-so-pleasant odours and the air quality in Kamloops.
The mill was first built in 1965 by the Weyerhaeuser Company and expanded in 1972. Domtar bought the mill in 2007.
Dangelmaier says when the mill first opened, it was operating at about 50 Total Reduced Sulphur parts per billion. Now the norm is zero parts per billion, which makes the sulphur smell only noticeable when there are production issues, Dangelmaier says.
During the last few months, the mill has been operating at about three parts per billion, which has sparked complaints from Kamloops residents.
“Humans respond to changes in concentrations,” Dangelmaier says. “Even though we’re 99.9 per cent effective in treating these odours, a little goes a long way.”
Ralph Adams, air quality meteorologist for the Ministry of Environment, says even when Domtar is having production issues and the odour is more noticeable, the change is so small it doesn’t affect the city’s air quality.
HOW IT ALL WORKS
Sulphur is needed in the treatment process because of a delicate equation Domtar came up with to treat pulp fibre in an efficient way. A massive truck, also known as a dumper, comes to the mill full of wood and dumps it into a pile. Dangelmaier says Domtar mostly uses wood from local sawmills that can't use it.
The chips are then put through screening to ensure they're usable. After that they're continuously cooked in a process called "digestion."
Once digestion is complete, the chips are continuously washed with different chemicals before being put through a pulp dryer. After the chips come out of the dryer, they're put through a cutter and finished.
During the digestion process, sulphur, sodium and hydroxide are added to protect the fibre in a combination called white liquor.
Dangelmaier says almost none of the finished pulp is used for traditional copy paper and two of the main products are tissue and moulding compounds.
Pulp fibre, she says, is also a good substitue for asbestos.
Dangelmaier acknowledges the nuisance factor of the odour occasionally coming from the mill and wants residents to know it's not affecting the city's air quality.
"The human nose is so tuned to this sulphur odour," she says. "That's why we have a stack way up on the hillside."
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