by Andrew Turner

A group of concerned citizens said Tuesday they weren't out to target a new company planning to come here, but to make sure that everything is known about the styrene it plans to emit from its plant.

A group of roughly a dozen people expressed their fears at the zoning board of adjustment's regular meeting last night at the town office.

New England Composites Inc., a subsidiary of a Canadian fiberglass parts manufacturer, plans to emit styrene from an exhaust stack at a new plant being built at the town's industrial park.

Styrene is a toxic byproduct of the fiberglass-making process and people who live near the industrial park came to last night's meeting to say they were fearful of the effects the styrene emissions will have on the region.

The board was actually on hand to decide what height the exhaust stack would be and has no jurisdiction over styrene emissions, which falls into the hands of the state's Agency of Natural Resources.

The ANR's Air Pollution Control Division will conduct a public hearing July 7 to hear the concerns of the citizens, a last-minute meeting requested by the group.

The board voted 3-2 to allow the company a stack height 65 feet above town regulations.

Dorothy Weinstein and Alan Boye were the two dissenters, while board Chairwoman Kim Gilding, Bill Merrow and newly-appointed member Stephen Donna voted in favor.

At issue for the board was whether a 100-foot stack could be reduced to 80 feet and thus spare aesthetic problems while not compromising dispersion of the gas.

Boye made an original motion for the 80-foot stack with the stipulation that mechanical devices be used to thrust the gases out of the stack at a height equivalent to 100 feet.

The original motion was defeated and a new one established by Merrow, who said he was concerned with the possibility that NEC could simply decide to build a 35-foot stack with no mechanical devices, which would be legal according to the town ordinance.

The larger issue at Thesday's meeting, however, was the fear expressed by the citizens in the audience, who said another styrene-producing company could create potential health problems.

One of the signees of the letter to the ANR asking for a public hearing, Lynn Wurzburg, said the group's concern wasn't about jobs but about health, and the fact that there are other styrene emitters in the area.

"We're concerned about the cumulative effects," Wurzburg said.

Other citizens spoke of the potential carcinogenic effects of styrene, including the fact it collects in fatty tissue, which can lead to cancer, and that it could affect property values.

The zoning board gave everyone a chance to speak before the question on the table - what height the stack can be - was eventually moved and voted on.

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