By Tia Lynn Ivey
While the BD Bard plant in Covington was court-ordered to temporarily close this week, due to its use of a cancer-causing gas, the Bard plant in Madison will operate as usual, pumping out the same gas into the air, for now. According to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD), the regulatory agency will not conduct an air test in Madison.
“The EPD has no plans to test for ethylene oxide in other Georgia locations at this time. However, that may change as we get more data,” said Kevin Chambers, director of communications for the EPD.
The covington plant’s closure will begin Wednesday, Oct. 30 as part of a deal reached between BD Bard and state and local officials who called for the operational halt. The deal also mandates operational limits for the Madison plant, but does not call for the Madison plant to close, too.
Covington city officials initially conducted an independent air test which resulted in higher-than-expected levels of ethylene oxide, a gas designated by the Georgia Environmental Protection Agency to “definitely cause cancer.”
According to Madison officials, the city will not push for air testing at the BD Bard plant in Madison at this time.
“Our situation is unique to that of the Covington Plant,” said City Manager David Nunn. “They have residential neighborhoods within 1,000 feet or so of the plant, where our closest neighborhoods are probably a mile out. We are not pushing for anything further for BD Bard to do other than what the consent order from that state has already called for.”
According to Bard, the Covington plant emits a slightly higher rate than the Madison Plant, but officials worry about the accuracy of Bard’s numbers after the results of an independent air test came back much higher than anticipated. According to BD Bard, the Madison plant emitted about 557 pounds of ethylene oxide in 2018, while the Covington plant emitted over 653 pounds that same year. The Madison BD Bard plant is located on Mary Magnan Boulevard, off of the Madison 441 Bypass.
After a Newton County judge signed off on the state’s consent order on Monday, Oct. 28, BD Bard is being legally required to “impose deadlines for installation of enhanced pollution controls at BD’s medical sterilization facilities in Covington and Madison.”
“BD has agreed that we won’t increase production at Madison greater than the average number of product lots processed at Madison during the months of July, August & September 2019,” explained Troy Kirkpatrick, a spokesman for BD Bard. “We are also committing to the same operational modifications in Madison that we are doing in Covington to reduce emissions.” Those modification include leak detection equipment as well as the installation of air pollution control equipment to capture “fugitive emissions” and route them to control devices with at least 99 percent control efficiency.” BD Bard has been given a deadline of May 31, 2020 to complete all installation and initial performance testing requirements at the Madison plant.
The high levels of ethylene oxide detected in the air around surrounding neighbors to the Covington BD Bard plant first prompted local officials to take action.
“We are grateful for BD’s presence in our city and realize the number of Covington residents that are employed at BD’s sterilization facility,” said Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston in a statement. “However, given the results of our independent air test, the Covington City Council and I have no choice but to ask BD to do the right thing for their employees and neighbors and temporarily cease operations at their Covington sterilization facility until additional safeguards are in place and we have data verifying the efficiency of those safeguards.
“This is not a decision we took lightly, but when the safety of thousands of residents and BD employees is at risk, the only prudent action is to temporarily cease operations until we can be assured the safety of our community isn’t compromised,” he added.
However, BD Bard refused local officials’ request to close, prompting state officials to apply legal pressure on the company to temporarily shutdown.
Georgia State Attorney General Chris Carr released a statement last week on behalf of Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (GEPD) demanding the covington plant to stop all operations.
“After months of failed negotiations, empty promises, and misleading reports of ethylene oxide leaks, we have filed a Temporary Restraining Order to suspend operations at BD in Covington,” Kemp said in a statement.
“Our top priority is the health and well-being of Georgia families…This measure is necessary to ensure transparency and prevent behavior that threatens the safety of employees and the community.”
Carr explained the state discovered an ethylene oxide leak over the course of a week. According to Carr, the detected leak, which he described as “negligent,” caused a violation of the Georgia Air Quality Act and Rules for Air Quality Control. According to state official, from Sept. 15 to Sept. 22 a total of 54.5 pounds of ethylene oxide was emitted in violation of state standards.
State officials also noted that the leak was due to a “lack of diligence and prolonged operator error rather than an equipment malfunction.”
BD Bard, which plans to reopen the Covington plant on Nov. 7, put out a statement this week pledging voluntary compliance with the state’s regulatory agencies.
“BD plays an essential role in the safe and effective delivery of health care and maintains an unwavering commitment to health care providers and patients. BD entered into an agreement with the State of Georgia to ensure that the company can continue to provide critical medical devices that are sterilized in its Covington facility,” said the statement. “BD is safely operating in full compliance with its permits, has proactively adopted the most advanced and best available technology and is emitting a fraction of its allowable limit.
As a result of this agreement and BD’s business continuity efforts, BD does not expect disruption to product availability at this time…According to the terms of the consent order, BD will continue to move forward with the previously announced timelines for the $8 million in voluntary improvements the company committed to make in August 2019. In addition, the Covington facility will voluntarily suspend sterilization operations for a weeklong period from Oct. 30 to Nov. 6 to allow Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) to take ambient air monitoring samples in the area when the company’s sterilization systems are not in operation.”
BD Bard believes the plants’ ethylene oxide emissions have always remained in the safe range for public health.
“One of BD’s core values is to do what is right – for employees, communities, customers and patients. BD would not trade employee or community safety for patient safety, but knowing that the science has confirmed the safety of the company’s operations, BD will always advocate for the patients around the world who rely on the more than 250 million devices each year that are sterilized by BD in Georgia,” said the BD Bard statement. “The company remains confident in the safety of its operations and the scientific analysis that confirms that its operations do not pose a threat to employees, the community or public health.”