Two dead in Albury paper mill gas leak

Two workers are dead and one remains in critical condition in hospital after a toxic gas tank leak at the Norske Skog papermaking plant in Albury NSW, on the Victorian border.

A 37 year old Lavington NSW man died this morning and a 28 year old worker from Wodonga died in hospital yesterday, having sustained burns and inhaling gas. A man aged 22 remains in critical condition at Albury Base Hospital.

The three men had been working on top of a 15 metre high tank checking valves when they were apparently overcome by fumes and went into cardiac arrest.

A further 15 workers were taken to hospital. One remains in hospital in stable condition while the others were released overnight.

The plant evacuated approximately 150 employees after staff were overwhelmed by fumes from the leak, which took place at the end of a three day annual shutdown for maintenance.

The gas is thought to be hydrogen sulphide, more commonly known as rotten egg gas due to its odour, which it is thought to have built up on the pulp during the shutdown.

The fatal leak comes just a month after a fire tore through the same plant destroying 300 tons of paper and taking 50 firefighters to get it under control.

The Norske Skog Albury mill manufactures paper for publishers and commercial printers. The company's Albury mill produces 274,000 tonnes of paper annually which represents about 40 per cent of the newsprint and related grades in Australia annually.

The plant has 184 employees and is one of two Norske Skog mills in Australia, the other in Tasmania, and one of seven across the world.

The mill, which is currently shut down, says it is cooperating with SafeWork NSW investigators in determining the cause of the leak.

A spokesperson for the AMWU says, “The union is definitely involved with the investigation, but we are not making any comment on it at this point.”

It remains unclear if production at the plant will be affected.

Norske Skog was recently bought out by Oceanwood, a London based asset manager, saving it from going bust.

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