New Forest Grove chemical plant execs respond to concerns
Will the company pollute the water supply? Will any harmful chemicals be released into the air? Will it explode if something goes wrong like that plant in Texas? What is the truck traffic going to be like?
These are some of the questions community members asked during a public meeting in Forest Grove Thursday night, Nov. 30, about MGC Pure Chemicals America (MPCA), which will be opening a manufacturing plant on Elm Street.
The company produces ultra-pure hydrogen peroxide used in the semiconductor industry for cleaning, stripping and etching. A subsidiary of the Japan-based Mitsubishi Gas Chemical Company, MPCA has a similar manufacturing plant in Mesa, Ariz., about double the size of the one expected to open in Forest Grove in spring 2019.
Scott Hancock, the company's vice president and chief financial officer, said company leaders looked at about 15 different sites in Oregon and Washington, but Forest Grove was the best fit. The land was available, the city has lower-than-average water and power rates, and it's close to Intel, one of their major customers.
The plant will take up eight to 10 acres of the 20-acre site.
There will be 20 jobs available at first — including a plant manager position, a few engineer positions, an administrative position and more — with the potential for 25 as the company expands over the next five years.
In addition, MPCA currently has a research and development office in Hillsboro, which company officials plan to move to the Forest Grove site at some point.
Hancock said their Mesa plant has about 100 employees, so Forest Grove's plant might eventually grow closer to that size.
According to Hancock, the average employee will make $63,000.
Forest Grove Economic Development Director Jeff King said city staff members have been working to bring jobs to town offering a variety of wages. He said he's excited about these high-wage, middle-class family jobs.
Chemicals spark concern
About 40 people attended the meeting with various concerns, mostly centered on the environment and pollution.
During Hurricane Harvey in Texas, for example, a chemical plant was flooded, knocking out the refrigeration system required for its store of hydrogen peroxide and leading to explosions and fires.
But Hancock said MPCA's plant is completely different. First, its hydrogen peroxide is inorganic, not organic like the product in Texas, so is less reactive. Nor does MPCA's chemical need to be refrigerated, so a power loss would not provoke explosions.
Second, the hydrogen peroxide MPCA will be hauling into Forest Grove is already stabilized. MPCA's job is to dilute it.
Third, the plant that suffered explosions in Texas had numerous chemicals. MPCA will have only three: hydrogen peroxide (70 percent), along with sodium hydroxide and sulfuric acid for waste neutralization.
Hancock said the acid is used to neutralize the hydrogen peroxide. Because the chemicals are neutralized once they combine, there isn't a lot of chemical waste. Any left-over acid goes into the filtration system. MPCA then hires a company that disposes of those filters. Hancock couldn't say what that company does with the filters, however.
Some people had worried the company would be using hydrofluoric acid, which Intel emits into the air in Hillsboro and which can harm people's health at certain levels. MPCA officials said they do not use that material.
Some hydrogen peroxide waste — diluted at less than one percent, well below the level of a health hazard — will be let into the city's sewer system.
Other attendees asked about a risk management plan and a hazardous materials plan, as well as plant design. Company leaders said they did not have all these details because they are still in the initial stages of development.
Water, traffic, noise
Some residents were also concerned about the company's water usage, which will be an estimated 3 million gallons per month — the equivalent of about 400 homes.
MPCA will not be the city's largest user, but it would be in the top five, classified as a moderate-to-high" user, said Forest Grove Public Works Director Rob Foster, adding that MPCA's water usage would not affect residents' water supply.
Foster said the city currently uses only about half its annual water supply.
TTM Technologies uses about 7 million gallons per month and Lieb Foods LLC uses about 2 million.
Former city councilor Victoria Lowe said the planned plant would be in the inundation zone if the area ever experienced a large earthquake and the Scoggins Valley Dam broke. Company leaders were not aware of that.
Hancock said the company has an excellent environmental track record and will comply with all city and state permit rules as well as any Clean Water Services regulations.
In printed materials handed out at the meeting, Mesa Industrial Pretreatment Supervisor David Gonzales wrote that in 17 years, the company had only minor discharge violations and MPCA has since corrected the problem.
Several members of Friends of Historic Forest Grove attended the meeting, worried about the increased traffic and noise near the historic A.T. Smith House. Hancock said there will be about two to three trucks per week delivering product to the facility and six to seven taking product out. They plan to ship in the large quantities of hydrogen peroxide via rail car. Company leaders don't expect any noticeable noise off the premises.
MPCA plans to use Highway 47's intersections with both Elm Street and Fern Hill Road, prompting concerns from audience members.
"Do you know it's probably the most dangerous intersections in the city?" one asked, referring to Fern Hill.
If there was a collision with a truck carrying hydrogen peroxide that leaked on the highway, Hancock said, it would have to be diluted with water but would not present a serious health hazard.
To foster a community relationship and assure concerned community members, Forest Grove resident Russ Dondero suggested the company enter into a Good Neighbor Agreement, which outlines citizens' concerns and how the company will address them.
The land MPCA purchased is industrially zoned so the plant falls under the city's permitted uses. That means the city's planning commission likely will not have to review any materials related to the business.
By Stephanie Haugen
Reporter, Forest Grove News-Times
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