WOBURN - The City Council appears satisfied by the internal safety controls and hazardous material disposal protocols incorporated into plans for a proposed pharmaceutical manufacturing plant off of Cabot Road.

During a meeting in City Hall earlier this month, representatives for Woburn-headquartered Continuus Pharmaceuticals explained how they will safeguard solvents being used as part of the production process and prevent potential spills into drainage systems and wetlands situated towards the rear of the Commerce Way corridor site behind Market Basket.

Still awaiting the results of a traffic study, the council ultimately continued the public hearing until its next regularly scheduled meeting on Dec. 7. The matter is also being reviewed by the Special Permits Committee.

Late last summer, Continuus Pharma, a medical tech company formed in the wake of 2012 partnership involving the Mass. Institute of Technology, announced plans to open its on drug making plant within a specialized laboratory within a two-story office building at 32 Cabot Road.

As part of that company effort, the petitioner is proposing to expand the manufacturing floor space within the existing 50,000 square foot building and to tack on another 9,000 square foot addition and a utility structure towards the rear of the 6.25-acre property.

The Planning Board late last month issued the first of a series of special permits needed to expand the manufacturing use within the building from 7,440 to 37,728 square feet of space. However, the City Council must also issue a site plan approval and grant a handful of other permits to allow a high-hazard use within a flood plain.

Since first appearing before the council this summer, there has been plenty of buzz around the project, as the plant would reportedly become the only drug making facility on the globe capable of mass-producing injectables and other drugs from start to finish.

However, Continuuos Pharmaceuticals’ novel production process, which uses raw chemicals to create so-called active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) that would otherwise come mostly from foreign suppliers, has also drawn concerns from council members like Ward 5’s Darlene Mercer-Bruen and South End Councilor Richard Gately.

Specifically, both city officials have urged the petitioner to explain how it will protect environmentally-sensitive wetlands around the site from chemical spills. There have also been questions around the types of solvents being stored at the rear of the site, and how those products and end-process waste will be stored and transported.

During the recent meeting, Jim Jackson, a civil engineer hired by the special permit applicant, explained that part of the building renovations involve the creation of special chemical containment areas by a loading dock area at the rear of the 6.25-acre parcel.

Several special drainage areas, which can be disconnected from a pair of main subsurface runoff treatment and infiltration tanks, will be incorporated into the concrete pad. Jackson also explained that storage lockers, used to safety store totes full of solvents, will also be spaced within the delivery zone.

A connected utility building, used to store warehouse equipment, will be able to bring those chemicals to the main production laboratories on the second-floor of the building, where the company will be able to mass produce two different types of pharmaceutical products simultaneously.

Once those raw materials are combined to create APIs and then later a finished injectable or other medication, all waste will then be drained to one of three exterior metal storage tanks that will sit at the rear of the property just outside of the loading dock zone.

“The back of the site will also have secondary containment areas around the solvent tanks. Also in the event of a fire in the building, the water from the fire suppression system would drain into that same containment area,” Jackson explained.

Ernie Penachio, the company’s vice-president of technical operations, later explained that each of the three waste tanks would house varying forms of chemical waste.

The first would include highly combustible waste, a byproduct that is apparently commonly used as a fuel source. A second less flammable liquid would also be burned, but at a specialized incinerator where other hazardous materials are disposed of.

Lastly, a third storage tank would include alcohol and other cleaners used to wash out production equipment after each batch of medical products is manufactured.

Penachio also explained that besides being stored within special chemical lockers or the exterior waste tanks, hazardous materials would otherwise only be handled within the pair of special manufacturing labs on the second-floor. Each of those spaces, the corporate officer explained, included state-of-the-art fire suppression systems and secondary containment safeguards to prevent spills from escaping the building.

“It’s all designed to be completely airtight. The whole name of the game is complete containment and isolation [of all hazardous materials],” the Continuus Pharma representative said.

Also as part of his presentation, Penachio provided a detailed list of the solvents and industrial cleaning products being used as part of the production process. Those chemicals include:

• Isopropyl alcohol and ethanol for cleaning manufacturing equipment;

• and acetonitrile, dichloromethane, triethylamine, dibutyl ether, methyl tertbutyl ether, methanol, ethyl acetate, and tetrahydrofuran.

“Thank you for answering those questions about the chemicals,” Mercer-Bruen remarked in response to the presentation. “I know what you do is highly regulated, but it’s important to know and understand what you’ll be doing down there.”

According to Mercer-Bruen, as the council wraps up its deliberations over the petition, she is likely to add some type of special permit condition that restricts the routes that can be taken by trucking companies transporting the chemical solvents.

Penachio, pointing out that the Cabot Road site has easy access to both I-93 off of Commerce Way by Anderson Regional Transportation Center and I-95 by Mishawum Road, lodged no objections to the imposition of such a requirement.

“Either one of those routes will be fine. We certainly won’t be going through town,” he said.

Later during the recent discussion, Ward 4 Councilor Joseph Demers, recalling neighborhood complaints from years ago about noxious odors coming from the Atlantic Gelatin plant off of Montvale Avenue, later asked whether any of the chemical and waste storage areas would be exposed to the open air.

Demers later suggested that the fire department be invited to the site before opening the plant so the public safety personnel could familiarize themselves with the Hazmat areas and fire suppression systems.

“If people drive by and smell alcohol all the time, we will be getting calls. So you won’t be doing any releases through smoke stacks or anything like that, will you?” asked Demers.

“Nothing is designed to exhaust into the atmosphere and I would say it would be negligent operation if you could actually smell the solvents,” the company vice president answered.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.