There have been two fatalities while other workers sustained serious injuries as a result of a suspected hydrogen sulfide gas leak at a paper mill in the Albury-Wodonga area.
Workers were overcome by the gas during routine maintenance at the Norske Skog paper mill in Ettamogah.
Two workers, 28-year-old Ben Pascall and 35-year-old Lyndon Quinlivan, died in hospital as a result of exposure to the gas leak, while two others workers remain in Albury Base Hospital – including 22-year-old Tom Johnson who is in a critical condition.
The men had been working on top of a tank checking valves when they were apparently overcome by fumes and went into cardiac arrest.
The fumes are thought to have come from pulp which was unused while annual maintenance was carried out.
After the incident, around 150 people were evacuated from the site and a further 18 were taken to hospital, but 14 have since been discharged.
The Norske Skog plant produces around 274,000 tonnes of newsprint each year.
Hydrogen sulfide is a colourless gas with the odour of rotten eggs, and exposure to high concentrations can result in pulmonary edema, or excess fluid in the lungs.
“The mill’s emergency response team and emergency services attended the scene immediately after the incident occurred and assisted all workers,” said Norske Skog in a statement.
“The Albury Mill has been evacuated and emergency services are in control of the site. “
SafeWork NSW said initial inquiries indicate the men were working in the basement area of the mill when they were overcome by Hydrogen Sulfide gas (H2S) and collapsed.
“Emergency Services responded immediately to the site," the regulator said.
“SafeWork NSW has secured the area of the incident, has formed an investigation team including inspectors with specialist chemical expertise, and will be on site over the coming days to determine the cause of the incident.
“SafeWork NSW will be preparing a report for the coroner.”
Norske Skog general manager Milo Foster extended his and the company’s deepest sympathies to the employee’s family.
“Our first concern is to our employees, their families and everyone affected by this tragic accident,” he said.
“We will provide support to those affected and work with authorities to investigate what happened.”