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Dragon Cement addresses pollution concerns

By Christine Simmonds | Sep 15, 2020
Photo by: Christine Simmonds Dragon Vice President of Environmental Health and Safety Steve Holt addresses Thomaston residents Sept. 10.

Thomaston — Dragon Cement Plant held an informational night Sept. 10 to address the $66,937 fine paid to the Department of Environmental Protection in July.

The plant representatives also responded to the article in The Courier-Gazette on the matter.

Dragon Vice President of Environmental Health and Safety Steve Holt said the article contained inaccurate information and was misleading about the fines.

Holt said the article, written by Stephen Betts and published Aug. 15, claimed the plant was the subject of an investigation. Holt said this was not true.

According to Holt, Dragon Cement investigated themselves and corrected the air emissions problem. Following the correction, the plant reported themselves to the DEP.

“Our pattern of compliance is very good,” Holt said.

Holt also said the penalty was a collection of several fines combined over time from 2013 to 2018.

Holt compared the fine to receiving a speeding ticket in one county, and then being stopped for a tail light out in another county.

The DEP stated in August to the newspaper that the violations were discovered following an investigation that began in 2016 when the plant failed an ammonia emission stack test. A notice of violation was issued May 2017.

The DEP said it typically investigates to see if there are additional violations once a violation is identified. In this case, the state environmental agency went back and reviewed tests going back to 2013.

The DEP said it began negotiating the consent agreement in December 2019.

The DEP determined that Dragon Products exceeded its ammonia limits in its emissions from the manufacturing kiln on multiple occasions during 2016, exceeded its carbon monoxide emissions on multiple occasions in 2015 and 2016, and exceeded its particulate release in 2015.

The environmental agency also listed other violations from 2013 through 2018, including failing to record accurate and reliable data for nearly all of the fourth quarter of 2015.

In 2015, 2016 and 2017, Dragon exceeded its opacity standards. Opacity is a measure of visible emissions coming from a stack, essentially the particles that make up the smoke

Holt admitted that part of the problem stemmed from a staffing issue. A long-time employee left the company, and Betts reached out to that employee for comment on the issue in August. Because of this, the plant did not receive Betts’ email in time to respond. “I dropped the ball,” said Holt.

Select Board member Diane Giese asked Holt if the plant considered converting to solar energy.

Holt said the plant did consider it, but were concerned about damaging the surrounding wetlands. “We haven’t given up on that,” he added, but the plant was more interested in natural gas.

Select Board member Zel Bowman-Leberge asked why the penalty went to the DEP instead of the town. Holt said he did not know that was an option at the time, and added he would rather have the money go to the town.

Resident Joanne Richards, who is an active member of several boards and committees in Thomaston, said she supports the plant.

Richards said she grew up near the Dragon plant, and deliberately chose to purchase a house near the plant as an adult. She said the difference between then and now is “like night and day.”

Richards said when she was a child, blasting at the plant regularly broke windows in her house. Now she said it is barely noticeable.

Richards also said cars outside near the plant used to be covered in dust, and that no longer occurs either.

Richards used to be a member of the Citizen’s Advisory Panel to oversee Dragon, and said the plant representatives told them everything that happened. “I think you’re doing a fabulous job,” she said.

Select Board Chairman Pete Lammert, who also used to be on the Citizen’s Advisory Panel, agreed with Richards’ assessment, and added that the plant representative would let them know if an employee had so much as a hangnail.

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