menominee paper mill fire
Debris from a large-scale fire at Resolute Forest Products' paper mill in Menominee, Michigan, is shown. Officials say the blaze officially is out after burning for 16 days.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Officials: Michigan paper mill fire officially out

EPA says PFAS levels briefly spiked in Menominee River, not considered harmful.

October 27, 2022

The Menominee Fire Department announced last week that the fire officially is out at the Resolute Forest Products’ recycled bleached kraft pulp mill in Menominee, Michigan.

Officials say after a thorough examination by on-site personnel as well as thermal imaging by drone, no hot spots were found, but note that over the course of the next week, additional hot spots are probable as material is removed from the site. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which had spearheaded the air and water monitoring efforts, has announced Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) will lead the remaining fire-related activities, including site cleanup and water management and treatment.

According to the EPA, 68 fire departments from Michigan and Wisconsin assisted with the fire over a 16-day period.

 “It’s been a nightmare,” Menominee Fire Chief Mark Petersen said during a news conference last week. “We’ve fought some long fires in the past. This doesn’t compare to any of those.”

The fire began Oct. 6 around 11 p.m. at a Resolute warehouse it leases from KK Integrated Logistics before jumping to a storage warehouse leased by Johnson Controls. The mill warehouse stored recovered paper bales to be used to manufacture recycled bleach kraft (RBK) pulp.

The facility produced 171,000 metric tons of RBK pulp annually.

Petersen said bales, scrap paper and pulp were piled “over 10 feet high.”

“Initial response personnel met with Resolute employees and were directed to the fire,” he said in the most recent update. “Crews implemented an aggressive interior attack on the fire. After conditions deteriorated with zero visibility and paper bales falling, all personnel was ordered out of the building and we transitioned to a defensive fire attack.”

The building stood at 560,000 square feet, and officials say 420,000 square feet has been lost “to complete destruction,” while 140,000 square feet remains standing and structurally sound, but will need to be restored.

Environmental agencies from both Michigan and Wisconsin were concerned about a spike in PFAS chemicals in the Menominee River because of runoff from the fire—potentially impacting drinking water for the cities of Menominee and Marinette, Michigan.

In Marinette water, the PFHxA compound spiked to 331 parts per trillion, and low levels of other PFAS compounds, 6:2-FTS, PFPeS, PFBA, PFOA, PFBS and PFHpA, also were detected. However, EGLE officials said the levels were not considered harmful and that residents have been advised to continue using their cities’ drinking water.

“More PFAS compounds were detected than had previously been there in background levels and at higher concentrations,” said Michael Bolf of EGLE’s drinking water division. “But, it’s very important to note despite those detections, all of the treated water samples that we have seen have been below Michigan’s maximum contaminant levels.”

The EPA says residents will be notified immediately if a change in the risk to public health is identified.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer had declared a state of emergency Oct. 13 to provide more state support and technical assistance in combating the blaze.

At that time, Resolute said the mill’s machinery was “spared from significant damage,” but that plant operations are suspended at least through the month of October with no timetable for when they will resume.