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In the May 1997* issue of CHEMTECH, a publication of the American Chemical Society, Editor Abraham P. Gelbein wrote an editorial based on misinformation gleaned from personal sources as well as from the book The U.S. Paper Industry and Sustainable Production, written by Maureen Smith. Gelbein grossly misrepresented information related to the pulp and paper industry, including pulp production statistics, government regulations, and the industry's environmental progress. As a result of the inaccuracies, the magazine received several letters from different organizations, including Union Camp and AET. In response to data furnished by AET, CHEMTECH has printed a response from AET and comments from CHEMTECH's editor. The articles, reprinted with permission of the American Chemical Society, follow below:
The Paper Industry
by Douglas C. Pryke
August 1997

Your Innovator's Notebook article "An industry in transition," wasn't factual (May 1997, p. 1). The elemental chlorine-free (ECF) process' environmental track record speaks for itself:

  • ECF processes virtually eliminate dioxin. In fact, since 1988, dioxin discharges from North American pulp mills have decreased by more than 98%. Additionally, at mills in which complete substitution has been used since start-up, dioxin has never been detected in the wastewater or sludge or in fish body tissue downstream from the mills. The proof is in the progress: Since l990, 13 U.S. states have lifted a total of 17 fish consumption advisories for dioxin. Similarly, in Canada, 46% of the bodies of water previously closed by dioxin contamination have been reopened.

  • On the basis of industry's results and the substantial investments made to achieve them, the paper industry's emission of dioxin to the environment is now less than 0.5% of all dioxin generated from natural and manmade sources. With implementation of the new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines, this trace amount will be further decreased to undetectable levels. And with that, EPA predicts the remaining fish advisories will be lifted.

  • The notion that the adsorbable organic chlorine compounds (AOX) attributed to chlorine dioxide contain carbon tetrachloride, chloroform, polychlorinated phenols, polychlorinated furans, and dioxins shows a lack of understanding of the nature of the byproducts from chemical pulp bleaching with chlorine dioxide. To set the record straight, carbon tetrachloride, polychlorinated phenols, polychlorinated furans, and dioxins are not detected in wastewater from ECF effluents, and chloroform levels are lower than in treated drinking water.

    The risk to the aquatic environment posed by chlorinated organic compounds in treated wastewater from ECF bleaching has been assessed by a panel of esteemed scientists that included Dr. Robert Huggett, former assistant administrator of EPA. The panel concluded that, "Based on the existing available data, ... chlorinated organics from mills bleaching with chlorine dioxide, employing secondary treatment, and with [sic] receiving water dilutions typical of most mills in North America, present an insignificant risk to the environment."

  • Most mills today have already converted or have the ability to convert to an ECF process. Conversion to a totally chlorine-free (TCF) process may require anywhere from $70 million to $100 million in capital investment per mill, and bleaching costs for the TCF process are 60% higher than for the ECF process, all for no additional environmental benefit--a fact documented by a plethora of aquatic ecosystem studies. The industry's choice is a sound one, both environmentally and economically.

    In any estimate of capital and operating costs to convert to new technology, the reference case must be taken into account. For existing mills, the conversion to ECF has been relatively easy because many mills had existing chlorine dioxide manufacturing processes that could be upgraded to the required production for relatively low capital cost of $5 million to $20 million per mill, existing bleach plants were completely compatible, and bleaching cost increased modestly (5-10%).

  • Market pulp quality from ECF bleaching is excellent. Mill studies in Canada and the United States have measured high brightness (89-90% ISO) and high strength (burst, tear, tensile, viscosity) with ECF. Today's TCF sequences are less selective than ECF and, consequently, have been unable to retain high strength values at full brightness. Numerous recent studies have shown that TCF tear strength at high brightness is 10% lower than that of ECF and that the pulps have lower fiber strength. The lower strength has implications for paper machine productivity and virgin fiber requirements. ECF has higher wood yield than today's TCF pulping and bleaching processes, which means TCF processes increase overall wood consumption up to 10%.

  • In Canada, less than 1% of bleached pulp is TCF, whereas more than 70% is ECF. The balance of bleached pulp production uses high (50-70%) substitution of chlorine dioxide for chlorine.

    In Scandinavia, ECF holds 75% of the market. Producers of the balance, which is TCF, have responded to the economics and environmental performance of ECF and are now shifting a greater percentage of their production to ECF.

    Worldwide, in 1997, ECF will reach 50% of the world market. Production for TCF bleached pulp has stalled at just 6% of the world market, with no increases for the past three years.

    In the United States, about 50% of bleached chemical pulp is ECF; 49% is bleached with high substitution of chlorine dioxide for chlorine, and less than 1% is TCF. Louisiana-Pacific, the only TCF Kraft mill in the United States, has not bleached one pound of TCF pulp through April of this year.

    You stated that Union Camp produces TCF pulp. However, a company spokesperson for Union Camp confirmed that the company does not produce TCF pulp, nor do they supply TCF pulp to the U.S. government. Furthermore, the U.S. government never has been required to purchase paper made from TCF pulp.

    The facts presented here clearly indicate that the international scientific, academic, and regulatory communities have all reached consensus surrounding ECF's environmental and product performance.

  • Douglas C. Pryke, P. Eng.
    Executive Director
    Alliance for Environmental Technology

    Editorial response
    August 1997

    The Editor responds: I stand corrected on the statements about Union Camp and the purchase of TCF paper by the U.S. government. Since writing the editorial, I have learned that Union Camp does not produce TCF pulp, Union Camp is not a major supplier of TCF paper to the government, and federal agencies are not required to purchase TCF paper. Where did I get such notions? From information I gleaned while browsing the Union Camp Web site and information given to me by a friend who works for a federal agency.

    Union Camp's Web site describes its ECF (C-FREE) and TCF (Ultimate C-FREE) ozone-based bleaching processes as follows: "Ozone applications on hardwood and eucalyptus allow achievement of market brightness using either peroxide or light applications of chlorine dioxide in a short elemental chlorine-free (ECF) or totally chlorine-free (TCF) sequence." If I had read more carefully, it would have been apparent that only the first technology has been commercialized at Union Camp's mill in Franklin, VA.

    With respect to the issue of federal agencies purchasing only TCF paper, my friend remembered a Presidential Executive Order issued in 1993 that dealt with federal acquisition, recycling, and waste prevention. Federal agencies were encouraged to use environmentally friendly products and services. In response, my friend's office has been using Union Camp's Great White brand, which has a 25% postconsumer recycled content. He assumed that this was also a TCF paper, and because of the Executive Order jumped to the conclusion that all agencies were using it. Well, I got a nice letter from Union Camp Corp.--we published it in last month's issue--pointing out that this clearly is not the case (July 1997, pp. 2-3).

    Now, what about the other facts l cited in your letter? I summarize them here in three statements:

  • The implementation of chlorine dioxide-based ECF technology has reduced AOX and dioxin emissions to extremely low levels, so low that they represent insignificant risk to the environment according to some experts.

  • Conversion to ECF technology is cheaper than conversion to TCF technology and has lower operating costs, and most mills have already converted to ECF.

  • TCF technology is losing market share rather than gaining market share worldwide.
  • I have no reason to doubt the validity of these facts. The facts are marshaled to support the argument that ECF technology is an adequate and rational response to environmental concerns and that making pulp production any cleaner is dumb--to put it plainly. However, I don't buy the argument. The jury is still out on the risks associated with trace levels of AOX or dioxins in the environment. One of the facts you present is that the paper industry's emissions of dioxin to the environment are only a small fraction of the total dioxin generated from natural and manmade sources. But what is the fraction in the air and water emissions in the vicinity of a pulp mill? I suspect it's a lot higher.

    The U.S. pulp and paper industry has done an admirable job of cleanin up its act. Although I applaud those efforts, I still maintain that the industry could do and should do more.

    *Due to the American Chemical Society's copyright requirements, we are unable to post Mr. Gelbein's original editorial, as it appeared in the May 1997 issue of CHEMTECH (Volume , 27, #5, p.1). If your library does not have CHEMTECH, a copy of the editorial is available, for a fee, from the CAS Document Detective Service, (800) 631-1844 or