Norwalk Officials Debate Drinking Water Protections After Spray Foam Shutdown


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NORWALK – Officials are debating measures to strengthen protections of public drinking water after ordering a local spray foam company to halt its potentially hazardous operations.

The Norwalk First District Water Department – which provides drinking water to over 41,000 residents in Norwalk, and in some areas of New Canaan, Westport and Wilton – sources its water from groundwater, which then draws into the city wells. 

In 2009, the city adopted regulations to protect its aquifers – the underground rock formations collecting groundwater – by banning nearby hazardous operations. Companies operating before the 2009 adoption, however, could register and secure city approval to continue operations near the drinking water infrastructure so long as they follow city rules.

But at a Wednesday meeting, officials said they wanted to implement new penalties for companies that violate the Aquifer Protection Area Regulations.

“It’s outrageous that, in effect, we can’t hold people responsible,” said Louis Schulman, chair of the Planning and Zoning Commission.

At the virtual meeting, members of the Aquifer Protection Agency – who also serve on the Planning and Zoning Commission – unanimously voted to cease all hazardous activities at Spray Foam Outlets, and questioned whether the company had polluted the city water system.

According to Alexis Cherichetti, Norwalk’s senior environmental officer, the spray foam company released untreated wastewater into an aquifer and stored “hazardous material” in unpermitted areas.

Cherichetti presented photos of the operation at Muller Industrial Park to the members, which allegedly showed stacks of unpermitted storage containers and large pools of water near the aquifer system. 

Christopher Russo, an attorney representing Spray Foam Outlets, argued that flooding in the facility’s parking lot proved that polluted water could not enter the city water system.

“That’s exactly what we do not want,” Cherichetti said, scrolling through the photos. “We don’t want underground retention, particularly in close proximity to any hazardous materials.”

In addition to the alleged unpermitted storage of hazardous materials and flooding, Cherichetti said Spray Foam Outlets’ registration to continue operations in an aquifer protection area expired last year. 

The company is currently barred from any “high-risk” activities until they address the violation and re-register with the city.

Schulman asked if there was anything the city could do beyond ceasing hazardous operations to penalize the company.

“Between the time that you discovered these problems and now, significant harm may have been done,” Schulman said. “Is there nothing we can do about any harm that they’ve caused?”

But Cherichetti said the agency has already taken the only action available to them – pausing Spray Foam Outlets operations. According to city regulations, she said, the group was required to allow the company to re-register.

Similar to Schulman, Commissioner Nick Cantor looked to understand the impact of the violations on the public water supply.

“Do we have any sense of how much the aquifer has been impacted and – I’ll say, poisoned for lack of a better word here – by the toxins from this location?” Commissioner Nick Cantor asked.

Because the aquifer leads to the First District Water Department system, Cherichetti said she reached out to the department to alert them of the violations. She said the department staff regularly tests water quality, and she has not heard back about any irregular results. 

While the company may have violated city regulations, both the owner of Spray Foam Outlets, Richard Etinger, and his attorney, Christopher Russo, argued that there has been no chemical spill on the site, and said they had blocked wastewater from entering the drinking water system with fabric.

Drain: Christopher Russo, an attorney representing Spray Foam Outlets, said polluted water could not enter the city water system as the company had blocked off a drain with fabric.

Referencing a photo of water pooled on top of a drain outside of the foam spray facility, Russo said the flooding proved that no wastewater could enter the aquifer.

“The fact that it’s filling up with rain water shows that it’s working,” Russo said. “It’s preventing anything from going into the drywell.”

Russo assured members that the unpermitted storage containers have been removed, and the company has ceased all operations at the facility.

Asked to explain why the violations occurred in the first place, Russo said the former manager overseeing the facility led Etinger to believe that any issues with city regulation compliance were being handled.

“We subsequently found out that they weren’t. That manager is no longer employed with the company, and since then, my client has jumped on to it,” Russo said. “Now, it’s not the problem of the city that we have management issues, but that was the reality of the situation.”

Despite the company’s promise that no polluted wastewater has entered the city system, Cherichetti assured commissioners that she would reach out to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and their spill prevention bureau to ask about environmental testing.

In addition to ceasing operations and re-registering, the commissioners said they want to ask the Common Council to implement penalties for companies like Spray Foam Outlets violating the aquifer protection regulations.

“I would just ask if we could forward this case along to the Council saying, ‘Maybe it’s time they actually create an ordinance,’” Cantor said. “Because it seems like something we should have on the books.”

Commissioner Richard Roina offered to lead outreach to the Common Council, adding that it is “staggering” to him that the spray foam company believed covering the aquifer drain with fabric was enough to avoid penalty.

Other members said they’d help Roina implement penalties.

“I’ll help you, Richard. I’m pretty appalled, too,” said Commissioner Tammy Langalis.