Wilco residents fear environmental damage from planned chemical plant

Land along County Road 236, near Hwy 183, is where the proposed location for the new Exfluor research corporation production facility is located. It’s about seven miles west of the town Florence.  

Renderings show what the 36 acre, $10 million investment will look like. The company is waiting on a final decision on an air permit from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality

TCEQ stopped taking public comment on its website on April 11. State notification signs provide information about that process, as do several protest banners posted by a property owners group.

"Wrong place, wrong time," said Brice McCormick.

McCormick heads up the North San Gabriel Alliance. The group started an online petition in an attempt to prevent the site from being developed. As of Monday, April 18, nearly 2,500 people have signed it.

The plan is to present it to the TCEQ within the next 30 days.

"It’s wonderful, the community response is unbelievable," said McCormick.

Exfluor Research Corporation, which is based in Round Rock, converts hydrocarbons into fluorocarbons. Its products initially were developed for NASA and the Air Force. But the company, according to its website, also makes products for televisions, satellites and pharmaceuticals. 

The manufacturing process, McCormick believes, will also create an environmental threat to nearby residents, and a threat to the North Fork of the San Gabriel River located a mile away. The river flows into Georgetown, a point noted by McCormick.

"We are worried about chemical runoff into the river. Our alliance is not just for Exfluor, our alliance is for generations to come, for pure drinking water for Georgetown," said McCormick.

The group also argues the small county road cannot support traffic to the company. Local emergency responders are not prepared to handle a hazmat situation if one happens.

Company officials with Exfluor declined an on-camera interview. But in a statement, FOX 7 was told a safety plan will be in place and the alliance was accused of "fear-mongering" by pushing "misleading" information. A specific claim about the river was flat out denied by the head of engineering, Eric Bierschenk.

"We do not possess, nor have we ever applied for a permit to discharge any process water at this proposed site. Our facility is designed to be a zero-water discharge facility. 100% of our process water will be recycled or treated and evaporated," wrote Bierschenk.

The company plans to meet with residents Saturday, but McCormick doubts it will change minds.

"There are so many other places where those kinds of things are accepted, not there. I wish them great luck, but not in my backyard," said McCormick.

A spokesperson with TCEQ said a decision will not come until after the agency executive director has filed a response to all the public comments.

You can read Exfluor's full statement below:

"Thank you for reaching out for a comment from us concerning our new facility that we are planning to build in northern Williamson County. The North San Gabriel Alliance (NSGA) and their change.org petition continues to use terms like chemical plant and use imagery of billowing smokestacks in an attempt to fearmonger residents that live near our proposed facility. This alliance fabricated and continues to share misleading information with the community. The most egregious claim made by the NSGA is that we "obtained a wastewater discharge permit, which would drain into the North Fork of the San Gabriel River." – change.org dated March 29, 2022. We have provided factual records to the alliance multiple times informing them that we do not possess, nor have we ever applied for a permit to discharge any process water at this proposed site. Our facility is designed to be a zero-water discharge facility; 100% of our process water will be recycled or treated and evaporated. Astonishingly enough, the alliance continues to spread this lie on their Facebook page; understandably, this has resulted in concern from responsible residents and media outlets.

Exfluor has spearheaded the fight against the proliferation of Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in our drinking water and rivers throughout the United States. We have worked hand-in-hand with the EPA to synthesize Carbon-13 labeled PFAS compounds as analytical standards; which allow environmental labs and regulatory agencies to finally have an accurate test to quantify the amount of PFAS in a sample. Exfluor is the only company in the world capable of making these much-needed compounds to accurately test for PFAS. Ironically, the NSGA could cause great harm to the ongoing fight against PFAS in our water and rivers.

Our proposed facility will be a $10 million+ investment in the area. Growing demand for specialty pharmaceuticals and compounds has necessitated the construction of this proposed R&D center near Florence. We hope to continue the research and development of proprietary oxygen carriers that will revolutionize how common drugs are administered for millions of Americans. Additionally, we plan to synthesize anti-stiction agents for MEMS (Micro-electromechanical systems) and continue production of a high-performance lubricant currently in use in over 50% of the world’s computer hard drives. As the sole producer of many of our compounds in the world, we develop specialized compounds for very specific applications.

I hope we will be a positive addition to the area. We are a small business that currently employs less than 25 employees, many with a bachelor's, master's, or Ph.D.’s in science or engineering fields. We have two full-time employees devoted to health, safety, and the environment. The business prospects and the potential to employ more STEM and other specialty positions look very promising for Exfluor in the near future. We are projecting strong growth in our business for the foreseeable future. With our projected growth, the demand for high paying jobs and skilled labor from northern Williamson County will follow."

SUBSCRIBE: Daily Newsletter | YouTube
FOLLOW: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter