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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Clearwater Paper fined for failing to report chlorine releases

By Thomas Clouse and Tod Stephens The Spokesman-Review

Federal regulators announced Tuesday that Clearwater Paper Corp., based in Lewiston, has agreed to pay a fine for failing to properly report chlorine releases in 2019, 2020 and 2021.

Multiple releases of chlorine gas occurred at the Lewiston mill that resulted in the release of hundreds of pounds of the toxic chemical into the air, according to a news release from the Environmental Protection Agency. The company has agreed to pay a combined fine of about $367,000.

Some of the chlorine releases were large enough to prompt company officials to initiate evacuations and caused some employees to seek medical attention after they were exposed, the news release said.

Matt Van Vleet, spokesman for Clearwater, said evacuations were isolated to the facility’s processing and packaging areas which were nearest the gas release.

“Clearwater respects the EPA’s process but disagrees with the description in its release which grossly overstated the impacts of our noncompliance,” Van Vleet said. “There was no mill-wide evacuation and employees who were exposed were promptly attended to by trained on-site first responders. No employees were harmed.”

In response to Clearwater’s failure to report the chlorine release, Van Vleet said company officials did in fact submit the proper paper work, but it apparently did not meet EPA guidelines. He acknowledged that the company failed to submit paperwork within the required timeframe, which was the basis of part of the fine.

Ed Kowalski, who is the enforcement and compliance assurance director for EPA’s Region 10, said in the news release that the violations amounted to more than a paperwork glitch.

“Communities and first responders near facilities using deadly chemicals have a need and a legal right to know when releases occur,” Kowalski said. “These are not simple paperwork issues. The safety of workers, first responders and residents rests on a company’s compliance with these requirements.”

Van Fleet said the company’s chemical-release reporting practices have been updated for years.

“Concerns related to the EPA’s recent release has been corrected long ago. Clearwater has implemented measures to prevent releases and continually improves it reporting process,” he said. “The company is fully committed to complying with environmental laws and regulations for the safety of our employees and the communities where we operate.”