As chief executive officer of Corinth Wood Pellets and vice chairman of the Maine Pellet Fuel Association, I am responding to the Aug. 11 editorial, “Chance, Or Pellet Problem?”

First, I would like to correct a number of inaccuracies. There was an explosion at the Strong plant last weekend. The state fire marshal and private insurance investigators, experts in the science of fire and explosions, are investigating. It would be an error to assume the cause of this accident until the professionals reach a conclusion.

It may, or may not, have anything to do with the wood pellet manufacturing process. The Strong mill was not operating when the explosion occurred. As your paper has since noted, the fire at the plant at Ashland was not an explosion. It was a devastating fire, however. Pellet factories make fuel, after all. It does speak well to the safety procedures in both mills, and yes, to luck, that no one was injured in either incident.

Manufacturing wood pellets does not require the same skills as making pulp and paper. It uses some of the same raw material (pellet mills also use waste from other wood processing mills), and uses the same forest industry harvesting and transportation infrastructure, but the manufacturing process is different.

Pellet mills are not “packed full of sawdust and piles of wood waste” but do have plenty of heavy machinery. A visit to any pellet manufacturer in Maine would illustrate the segregation and containment of wood and sawdust, adherence to National Fire Protection Association standards for electrical systems, mechanical systems, and procedures for operating in a combustible or explosive dust environment, and strict enforcement of all codes and standards by OSHA and the state fire marshal.

Most mills that process wood have had a fire at one time or another. Wood, especially dry wood, is combustible, and under the right conditions, fine wood dust can be explosive. Most incidents in wood processing mills, including pellet mills, do not pose any threat to life or property and are minor in nature because of strict adherence to codes and safety procedures that protect both the people that work at these mills and the mill itself. An explosion in a wood drying drum, as occurred at Strong, is highly unusual, and would be a cause for concern in any manufacturing process, not only in wood pellets.

Let’s wait to learn the facts of this incident, and properly represent them in all reported incidents before making claims that an entire industry is unsafe. Those of us who work in the industry know the lengths, and the extra expense we incur to make our operations safe.

Your readers should know and understand these facts, too.

George Saffron, Corinth


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