Nanaimo mill churning out pulp for medical masks, gowns

Nanaimo’s Harmac Pacific mill is churning out a double order of pulp to fill an order for a U.S. customer who manufactures surgical equipment such as masks and gowns.

The surgical items are made for the North American market and some of the finished product returns to Canada, Levi Sampson, Harmac president, said Wednesday.

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Masks, gowns and other surgical products are desperately needed now in the fight against novel coronavirus.

Harmac is running its full workforce of 320 at a time when many businesses are closing.

“For our workforce, they are extremely proud to be making this product right now,” Sampson said. “You are doing something that is helping.”

Multiple shifts are running to turn out Harmac’s K10s pulp, produced from Western red cedar, which is plentiful on Vancouver Island, he said.

It happens to be the right kind of fibre to go into hospital surgical gowns, masks, drapes and caps and similar products, Sampson said. Harmac produces five types of pulp, each made according to a specific “recipe.”

The customer has been ordering from Harmac for many years.

This is the first time that customer has doubled an order to meet the current demand. Many locations are worried that they do not have enough medical supplies or will run out, Sampson said.

“I think our customer is just trying to see that demand.”

Harmac plans to continue producing the pulp after it has filled the current order in case more is needed, he said.

At the same time, Harmac has instituted new health and safety protocols and precautions, Sampson said. Employees are continually disinfecting on-site work stations and washrooms.

The mill sits on 250 acres of land, he said. “So we are able to really spread out workforce out while still allowing people to do their jobs safely.”

Anyone able to work from home is doing so, he said.

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