COLUMN: Wallingford chemical company and state working together to protect environment

COLUMN: Wallingford chemical company and state working together to protect environment


This week I am indulging my near-obsession with manufacturing industry once again to discuss Allnex, specifically the Community Advisory Board (CAB) the company established last summer. Just as a reminder, allnex (yes, technically they spell their name in all lower case letters, but I capitalize the name so it reads more easily) is the former Cytec, the huge chemical manufacturing facility that’s been part of Wallingford’s industrial scene since 1941.

As I have written before, there has been a sea change in how this facility views its environmental and community responsibilities from that of the previous ownership. In the latter years, Cytec chose to keep as low a community profile as possible, believing that its responsibility was to meet the emissions limits set forth by the government.

Allnex takes a proactive approach. Not only are they complying with environmental regulation, but they are also striving to reduce their environmental footprint beyond those standards. Additionally, rather than hunkering down and drawing as little attention as possible from environmental special interests, Allnex has invited the scrutiny, believing that transparency and open communication with even the most skeptical members of the public is a far more effective approach to its responsibility to the community in which it operates. Hence the Community Advisory Board was established.

In our most recent meeting, an important topic was an update in the company’s progress in having their National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit renewed. As the EPA describes this in its website: “the permit will contain limits on what you can discharge, monitoring and reporting requirements, and other provisions to ensure that the discharge does not hurt water quality or people’s health.” Allnex has an enormous water treatment plant on their property, and they discharge that treated water into the Quinnipiac River, so this permit is a very big deal, both for the company and the community.

The permitting process began in 2015, and may take as much as four years for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to completely review the company’s application, which runs to over forty pages and describes in great detail how the operation of the plant affects the water treatment. Subsequently, the company annually reports over 14,000 relevant data points of information to the authorities. If I were an Allnex executive, I’d be slamming my head against a wall, but the company is taking a calm and careful approach that will yield a far better result.

The most surprising and positive development is a change in attitude on the part of DEEP. The department is actually trying to speed up this permitting process in comparison with the timeline of previous permit reviews. Interestingly, their regulations will not permit Allnex to add any new products to their manufacturing mix while this review is undergoing, possibly putting this plant at a competitive disadvantage within the company and the resins industry, yet DEEP is attempting to reduce the time of this lengthy process while still being thorough.

I see at least two possible reasons for this change of attitude, both of which are a result of Allnex’s efforts to demonstrate the authenticity of its commitment to being a responsible environmental steward. First is the support that Allnex has received from our legislative delegation. This especially includes both Senator Len Fasano and Representative Mary Mushinsky. Mary’s support of Allnex and her request to DEEP that they do what they can to accelerate the NPDES permitting process is noteworthy given her environmental advocacy history.

The second reason is the improved relationship that Allnex itself has built with the agency. Allnex recognized the need for a mutually beneficial partnership with DEEP, and with the help of Sen. Fasano, established a regular meeting schedule to share information and work together to devise solutions that met Allnex’s business needs without sacrificing protection of the environment. For example, DEEP, in effect, spurred the creation of the CAB by advising Allnex to engage the concerned groups such as River Advocates directly and address their issues.

The members of the Allnex Community Advisory Board are witnessing how a chemical manufacturer and its proud employees can improve its reputation with state government and its connections with the community by making transparency a cornerstone of its corporate culture. May our important industrial neighbor be rewarded for this forthrightness with an expeditious permit review from DEEP.

Stephen Knight is a former Wallingford town councilor.

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