Hydrite Chemical Co. answered questions from residents last week about a recent emissions settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
In October, Hydrite and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reached a $480,500 settlement after the EPA found that Hydrite “exceeded permit limits by failing to properly monitor fugitive emissions of hazardous air pollutants (HAPs)” at its chemical blending and manufacturing facility in Cottage Grove. In 2018, the Wisconsin Department of Justice announced that Hydrite and the state had settled on a decades-long dispute to clean up groundwater contamination.
Tom Miazga was the main Hydrite representative tasked with answering questions from residents and the village board at a special board meeting on Monday, March 29. Most of the discussion related to the recent air pollutant emissions from the plant.
He said in response to one village resident’s question that Hydrite is taking every step where chemicals from the plant shouldn’t be smelled in the air, but said it’s not reasonable or legally required for the company to eliminate all emissions from the plant.
“That’s kind of the nature of the business… There are fugitive emissions that are allowed by rule, and I know at times you may smell something, but there shouldn’t be at concentrations that are detrimental to human health or the environment. They are basically allowed, if you will,” Miazga said. “If we were a chocolate factory, you’d be smelling chocolate, but the nature of the business is we’re not, so there will be fugitive emissions from time to time.”
Victoria Nelson, an EPA enforcement environmental engineer, said it’s “not so uncommon” for facilities such as Hydrite to have emissions such as those that were settled on in October, using the example of pipes in a person’s home.
“You think about your pipes at home that might leak, gaskets break down, valves break down, that’s what we kind of noticed at this facility is some of the hatches on top of these tanks or other equipment didn’t have gaskets that were keeping those emissions in,” Nelson said.
According to Miazga, Hydrite has 35,000 points at its Cottage Grove facility that need to be monitored, including every pump and valve in the facility. According to Miazga, the EPA and Hydrite “agreed to disagree” regarding Hydrite’s emissions, but “just get it right” over the next several years.
Nelson said Hydrite was “potentially underestimating” its fugitive emissions with the type of monitoring equipment it was using. Miazga said Hydrite has a third party do its monitoring, and since the most recent regulations issues, a third-party consultant is also overseeing the company’s usual consultant.
Transparency and public input
Perhaps most vocal of village residents at the meeting was former Cottage Grove Village Board Trustee Rebecca Ninke. She said that she has placed a number of calls to Hydrite in the past, complaining about what she believes were Hydrite’s chemical emissions in the air.
“Even as a resident, I knew there was something going on,” she said. “I had Dave, the safety manager, on speed dial. It was me and my kids playing outside several times where I called Hydrite, I called Dave, sometimes on the weekends and said ‘our eyes are watering, our throats are burning, something’s going on…’”
Miazga welcomed people to call him with any questions, and when COVID-19 is over, said people could come to the facility to see what they have going on.
“We’re very transparent,” Miazga said of Hydrite. “We look at you as our neighbors, and so we want to obviously treat your like neighbors, we just don’t get a chance to interact with you very often, but that’s Hydrite, and that’s the way we want to be in every town that we have a facility, is part of a community, and neighbors with our neighbors, so if anyone ever has any questions, 100% transparent, and you’ve got my contact information now, whatever you want to know…”
One Cottage Grove resident said that she was appreciative of Hydrite having always answered her concerns whenever she has had them. Ninke, however, said Miazga had “belittled” her and said she was imagining things when she had contacted him with prior concerns.