Pulp and Paper
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In some Wisconsin areas, the pulp and paper industry is known for its distinctive
One type of odor comes from a special techniquecalled kraft pulpingwhich
uses heat and chemicals to pulp wood chips for making paper. This reaction produces
gaseous sulfur compounds called "total reduced sulfur" or TRS gases. The odor
associated with TRS gases is typically described as "rotten cabbage or eggs."
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finds these odors are a
"nuisance" but not a health concern, at levels normally found in the
environment. However, there are times when the normal levels are exceeded.
Not all pulp and paper mills have an odor. Some paper mills use pulp from other mills
to make paper and will have a less noticeable odor.
Causes of Odor - Why It Changes?
There are three general groups of odor producing compounds that come from pulp and
paper industries. The smelly chemicals are reduced sulfides, ammonia, and other organic
In addition to kraft pulp mills, odors can come from sulfite pulp mills,
wastewater treatment plants and landfills. Each of these sources has their own distinct
Sulfite mills emit
sulfur dioxide (SO2) which has a strong, choking odor. Wastewater
treatment plants can have a rotten garbage odor, and landfills may have an odor from
decaying organic matter.
Odors from these sources will vary depending on an individuals smell sensitivity,
changes in wind direction, temperature, and mill processing techniques.
For example, odors may be more noticeable at night and in the early morning because of
temperature changes and less wind.
Under most weather conditions, the chemicals released from pulp and paper mills are
diluted with clean air so health problems are not expected. Odors may still be noticed
because people can smell sulfur-based chemicals, such as TRS gases, at extremely low
If the chemicals become concentrated (for example, by weather conditions) area
residents may experience eye and breathing irritation. Other symptoms may include nausea
and headaches. People with asthma may experience asthma episodes when the odors are
People with emphysema or COPD may also be at risk. These symptoms should disappear
shortly after the odors disperse.
See your doctor whenever you have health problems. If after seeing your doctor
you feel your symptoms are related to air quality, contact your local health department or the
Wisconsin Division of Public Health,
Can The Odors Cause Cancer?
According to the National Toxicology Program (NTP) and the
International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the specific chemicals that cause odors associated with pulp and
paper mills are not known or suspected to cause cancer.
Additionally, monitoring data conducted by the
Wisconsin Department of Natural
Resources (DNR) shows that the cancer risk in areas with pulp and paper mills is similar
to the risk in other urban areas of Wisconsin.
What Can You Do About Odors?
If odors change or get worse near the pulp and paper mills, contact the local mill and
The DNR encourages public participation in addressing air quality issues and your
comments are encouraged. Information about past problems can be useful in evaluating air
Contact the DNR about how to become involved in these issues.
For more information
Air Quality and Health
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) - Madison
Wisconsin Division of Public Health, Madison, (608) 266-1120.
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July 29, 2013