Unrecognised fog hazard of the planned Tamar Valley pulp mill

Dr Warwick Raverty is a pulp and paper specialist served on the Resource Planning Development Commission before Gunns' withdrew its proposal for a pulp mill.

He sent this advice (29 November 2008) about a serious but hitherto unrecognised risk from Gunns' planned pulp mill.


Dear friends,

I finally found it! Some years before I served on the RPDC Assessment Panel, I watched a documentary about a paper mill situated in a valley characterised by inversion layers in the Southern USA that had produced dense 'artificial fog'. The fog drifted onto a nearby freeway and caused a tragic multi-vehicle pile-up that killed 12 people.

At the time I was forced to resign from the RPDC I was frantically searching for reports of the accident on Google, but I found none. I could not remember the US State where the tragedy occurred, the date of the accident, or the name of the paper company involved. It seemed a hopeless task. I searched in vain through Gunns IIS without finding increased risks from fog, natual or artificial, listed anywhere. Just one more deficiency among hundreds I thought.

In March 2007 when addressed the Tasmanian Legislative Council in Committee about my concerns about the Tamar siting of the mill, I listed among them 'higher risk of traffic fatalities on the East Tamar Highway resulting from the water vapour from Gunns proposed 1.1 million tonne per annum pulp drier' which will discharge huge volumes of water vapour only 8-10 metres above ground level - NOT from the proposed 130 metre 'main stack'.

Without the video evidence, this warning was dismissed by most of your MLCs (Don Wing, Kerry Finch and Ruth Rattray-Wagner being notable exceptions). Doug Parkinson accused me of being 'alarmist'.

People often complain about repeats on the TV, but there are a few advantages and today one of them occurred. Foxtel Crime and Investigation Network repeated the documentary today and I managed to record it!

Because video files are very large, I have compressed the documentary (which runs for about 21 minutes) into 3 parts and posted them separately on Youtube, so you can see them easily and download them if you want. 

Unrecognised hazard of Gunns Tamar Pulp Mill - Part 1

Unrecognised hazard of Gunns Tamar Pulp Mill - Part 2

Unrecognised hazard of Gunns Tamar Pulp Mill - Part 3

For a detailed report, see www.findarticles.com


Here are the daunting facts about the tragedy and the comparison with Gunns planned pulp mill.

Names of Companies:

  • Bowater Paper Company
  • Gunns Limited

Date of tragedy:

  • 11th December 1990
  • Time still to prevent the tragedy(ies)

Location of tragedy:

  • Interstate 75, near Chattanooga, Tennessee
  • East Tamar Highway

Mill size:

  • USA's largest newsprint paper mill
  • Australia's largest proposed kraft pulp mill

Cause of fog:

  • 1,500,000 US gallons per day of water emitted as vapour from paper dryer
  • Gunns' proposed mill - 873,000 from pulp dryer to ground level plus 10,000,000 from effluent treatment ponds

Distance from mill to highway:

  • Bowater plant: 4.8 km
  • Gunns proposed plant: less than 1 km

Geography around the mills:

  • Hiwassee River Valley, subject to natural fogs and frequent inversion layers
  • Tamar River Valley, subject to natural fogs and frequent inversion layers

Temperature on morning of tragedy:

  • Zero degrees
  • Temperatures common in Tamar on winter mornings - 'near freezing'

Cause of tragedy:

  • Drivers who were blinded by dense fog (white-out conditions) from the pulp drier slammed on brakes.
  • Risk for drivers taking children to school in Georgetown blinded by dense fog from pulp mill drier will cause cars and heavy trucks behind to also slam their brakes on hard - tragedy ensues if there is a log truck (or 2 or 3!) behind them.


  • 99 vehicles written off. Smaller cars were compacted to length of 90 cm when sandwiched between two heavy goods vehicles.

Number of people killed:

  • 12
  • None if the Tasmanian Government acts to stop the mill. Road safety is outside the jurisdiction of the EPBC Act, so federal Minister Garrett is almost certain to say, 'Not my problem'.

Number of people injured:

  • 56
  • None if the Tasmanian Government acts to stop the mill

Cost to State Government:

  • US$ 0.8 million in compensation plus US$4 million for upgraded fog monitoring system plus cost of 3 permanent employees to operate fog monitoring system 'for ever'.
  • None if the Tasmanian Government acts to stop the mill

Company response to tragedy:

  • Bowater denied responsibility for fog and spent US$10 million defending a civil action for damages and then paid an out of court settlement of a further US$ 11 million to bereft families. Note the uncanny physical similarity between Bowater's Mr A H Barash and Gunns' general manager for the Pulp Mill Project Mr L R Baker and the similarity between the less than credible assurances they both make.


Dr Warwick Raverty

Ex RPDC Commissioner