Explosion at Paper Mill in Florida Generates Little News Coverage

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By Glynn Wilson –

A paper mill explosion Sunday night at the International Paper plant in Cantonment, Florida, generated typical local news coverage where the newspaper and television news stations are more concerned about a road closing and the status of schools than a deadly, toxic substance contaminating the area for workers and residents.

While the local television news stations preempted national shows on Sunday morning for their sensational weather coverage, there was little mention of a major explosion at an industry with toxic pollution raining down on workers and residents of the area.

According to the small time coverage by the Pensacola News-Journal, a Gannet newspaper, they highlighted the fact that the company claimed there were no injuries and talked about a “black, slippery substance” covering the road by the plant. There was no mention that this plant was one of the first paper mills in the country to generate the toxic substance dioxin when they began bleaching copy paper bright white.

I covered this story in the late 1980s and early 1990s for a chain of newspapers on the Gulf Coast and the wire service UPI, and that tough, watchdog press coverage — along with action by environmentalists putting pressure on the Florida Department of Environmental Quality — resulted in one of the toughest NPDS pollution permits on a paper mill in the country. The runoff from the plant had polluted Eleven Mile Creek leading to Perdido Bay in Baldwin County, Alabama, and killed all the plant life and much of the animal life in the creek and the bay.

These days, all the mainstream local media seem to care about is that the “Public Information Officer” for the plant said in a press release, that “all employees were accounted for, with no reports of fatalities or injuries.” Of course all the employees were evacuated, after being exposed to dioxin.

Where is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration? Is the plant unionized? Where is the statement from the union?

At least they reported that there was “a heavy chemical and smoke smell” hanging in the air, but they reported no warning that people should avoid breathing in this stuff since it too contains dioxin.

They reported power outages in the area and falling ash, but simply reported the company line that the ash is “not hazardous” and can be washed off skin with a mild soap and water.


There is a massive amount of science looking into dioxin, and the tinyest amount ingested into the lungs can cause a deadly form of cancer.

But what the local press is most concerned about is whether or not the local schools will be closed. Maybe they should be closed until the plant is declared safe and the company cleans up its toxic mess.

Of course the cause of the explosion was “unknown at press time.”

Will there be any followup? We will see.

I talk about the early coverage of this paper mill in my new book.

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© 2017, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.