NSC Labor Division news Unions Workplace exposures Manufacturing

Deadly fungal infection in Michigan paper mill prompts call for industry action


Photo: arlutz73/iStockphoto

Pittsburgh — The United Steelworkers is calling on the paper industry to protect its workers against fungal infections – one of which has proved deadly.

USW issued a statement on April 15 after blastomycosis caused one worker death and more than 90 cases of sickness in Escanaba, MI. The paper mill, owned by Sweden-based Billerud, will close for up to three weeks for cleaning, the company said in a press release.

“We send our deepest condolences to the family and friends of the contractor who lost his life to this infection,” USW International President Tom Conway said. “Moving forward, we cannot allow this to happen again. Rather than waiting to see if cases develop at other paper mills, management across the industry must be proactive and institute robust safeguards now.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, blastomycosis is caused by a fungus that typically resides in decomposing wood or leaves and moist soil.

“Our top priority now and always is protecting the health and safety of our employees and contractors who work at our Escanaba Mill,” Billerud President and CEO Christoph Michalski said in a company statement. “We care deeply about their well-being and are doing everything we can to protect them and identify and address the root cause of the blastomycosis fungal infections.”

Post a comment to this article

Safety+Health welcomes comments that promote respectful dialogue. Please stay on topic. Comments that contain personal attacks, profanity or abusive language – or those aggressively promoting products or services – will be removed. We reserve the right to determine which comments violate our comment policy. (Anonymous comments are welcome; merely skip the “name” field in the comment box. An email address is required but will not be included with your comment.)