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Hydrogen sulphide fire at Terrafame mine

Oulu Emergency Services reports a large accident involving hazardous substances at the former Talvivaara nickel and zinc mine – since renamed Terrafame – in Sotkamo, Finland. Mine representatives say the fire that resulted is under control and presents no immediate danger.

Pelastuslaitoksen auto ja ambulanssi Terrafamen portilla.
Rescue vehicles at the Terrafame gate. Image: Mika Niskanen / Yle

A hazardous fire broke out around 10 am Friday at the Terrafame nickel mine, formerly known as Talvivaara. The blaze started in the mine’s hydrogen sulphide generator.

Rescue units from around the Kainuu region were called to respond to the fire, but not all of them were needed. The nickel mine also has its own fire department.

“We confirm that a hydrogen fire has broken out at the mine, but we don’t know all of the details. The mine’s own fire fighters are working to extinguish it. The situation is therefore under control, but I can’t provide any more information on the possible after-effects,” said Terrafame’s CEO Joni Lukkaroinen.

Lukkaroinen says the fire has been confined to one generator in the hydrogen sulphide unit and currently presents no danger to the workers. The employees of the mine upwind of the fire have nevertheless been evacuated from the area.

Antti Husso, the fire chief on duty for the Kainuu Rescue Services, said firefighters were still working to put out the fire. 

“It’s going to take some time, several hours probably. The most important thing is that no lives are in danger,” he told Yle.

Husso also said the cause of the fire has not yet been established, and would not speculate about the extent of damage to the mine. 

Poisonous combination

Terrafame uses hydrogen sulphide for its metal recovery processes at the mine. With a smell like rotten eggs, hydrogen sulphide is a poison with toxicity is comparable to that of carbon monoxide.

Exposure to lower concentrations can result in eye irritation, a sore throat and cough, nausea, shortness of breath, and fluid in the lungs Long-term, low-level exposure may result in fatigue, loss of appetite, headaches, irritability, poor memory, and dizziness. Short-term, high-level exposure can induce immediate collapse, with loss of breathing and a high probability of death.

One man was killed at the mine in March 2012 after high-level exposure.

Terrafame is a state-owned mining company that took over ownership of the bankrupt Talvivaara mine in the autumn of 2015. Talvivaara had a long history of financial and operational troubles, and several members of its previous administration have been charged with environmental and financial crimes.

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