AYER - A tofu manufacturing facility, the subject of odor complaints from nearby residential neighborhoods, faces a fine and agreed to conditions as part of a negotiated settlement with the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Nasoya USA will pay a $27,360 penalty to the commonwealth for violating MassDEP Air Quality regulations and will make improvements to the air pollution control equipment within the next two weeks, according to a MassDEP news release on Nov. 8.
The facility will also establish a third-party odor response protocol that includes a hotline number for residents to call an independent consultant, who will immediately investigate the complaint and prepare a report.
The action comes after months of complaints that began in August, said Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand. Since the end of August, each meeting of the Board of Selectmen has included an update on the situation.
CEO Ross Gatta spoke to the board the evening before MassDEP released its statement on the consent order, Pontbriand said. Gatta went over what the company planned to do.
"This consent order requires immediate improvements to mitigate the odors while the company develops a plan for permanent upgrades," said Mary Jude Pigsley, director of MassDEP's Central Regional Office in Worcester in the statement. "Creating odor conditions that prevent residents from enjoying their own property is simply unacceptable.
The consent order is a positive and appropriate step spelling out a timeline to address the problem, Pontbriand said.
"On behalf of Nasoya, we sincerely apologies for the issues and assure you that we are fully engaged in working towards a solution," Gatta wrote in an email to Nashoba Valley Voice.
"This a top priority for us. This is not a matter of money for Nasoya, its about working through the technical issues as quickly as possible to find a solution to permanently fix the problem," he wrote.
The periodic odor issues are unacceptable to the company and the community, he wrote.
Staff from MassDEP, Nasoya and the town inspected the facility the week before the consent decree to identify specific improvements to mitigate the hydrogen sulfide odor.
"The order requires that specific equipment upgrades at the facility be completed within two weeks and requires the company to deliver a long-term plan and schedule for final improvements by the end of the month," the statement from MassDEP said.
Nasoya launched a 24/7 odor complaint monitoring and reporting service on Oct. 31, Gatta wrote. A third-party, Geo Insight, will visit the site within 30 minutes of a complaint, "monitor and document the odor conditions and file a report with the DEP, the Town Administrator, the Nashoba Board of Health and Nasoya within 24 hours. A copy of the report will also be provided to the person who raised the complaint," Gatta wrote.
Equipment upgrades must completed within two weeks and the company must deliver a long-term plan and schedule for final improvements by the end of the month, MassDEP wrote.
Nasoya is working with consultants, state, and local officials and will have interim measures in place in November, Gatta wrote.
"The options for a permanent solution are being evaluated now, and a solution will be chosen by Thanksgiving," he wrote.
A discussion about the odors from Nasoya remain as a standing item on the selectmen's agenda.
Twice in the past, the plant was placed under a consent decree and fined by the state agency.
The location used for a soy processing has paid fines to MassDEP in the past.
In 2007, VitaSoy was hit for $12,000 for air pollution and industrial wastewater treatment violations. A $10,995 penalty in 2013 came after odor complaints.
Pulmuone Foods purchased the plant in 2016.
Most odor and noise complaints are handled locally, said MassDEP spokesman Joseph Ferson. Some are elevated to the state level.
Follow Anne O'Connor on Twitter @a1oconnor.