By Tia Lynn Ivey
Cancer-causing gas emissions from the local Madison BD Bard plant continue to worry local leaders and citizens alike. As the BD Bard plant in Covington remains under scrutiny from state authorities over elevated ethylene oxide emissions and was forced to temporarily shutdown so state regulators further investigate, Madison leaders are left wondering if the Madison plant poses any similar potential health risks to local citizens. Madison leaders will meet with State Representative Dave Belton later this week to discuss the issue.
Some Madison City Council members are pushing for an independent air test to be done at the Madison Plant, conducted by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, despite the organization announcing it has no plans to conduct an air test in Madison to measure ethylene oxide emmissions.
“I think we have had our eyes opened by the situation in Covington,” said Councilman Eric Joyce. “The issue is so important to the citizens when it comes to their health and safety. I don’t want to rely on just what Bard says and go off of their self-reported numbers.”
“BD Bard has lost credibility after what happened in Covington,” said Councilwoman Chris Hodges. “ I suggested to our board that we bring in our state representatives and get them to reassure us that they are gong to take the lead to make sure the Madison Bard plant is held to the same standards as the Covington Plant. We shouldn’t have to spend city taxpayer money to fund our own air quality test.”
According to City Manager David Nunn, it could cost the city over $50,000 to pay for an independent air test and that’s not including follow-up testings that is usually recommended.
“The City of Covington had to pay for an air test and that’s how they discovered all these problems,” said Hodges. “But we shouldn’t have to do that. The EPD should be doing this here now that we have seen what is happening in Covington.”
Councilman Rick Blanton is hoping the improvements already agreed to by BD Bard for both the Covington and Madison plants will be sufficient in remedying any potential health risks.
“Right now we are on a fact-finding mission,” said Blanton. “I was hopeful after reading the paperwork from the EPD and agreement that they made with BD Bard to make improvements in the Covington Plant as well as the Madison Plant. I am hopeful that the EPD will share any all findings moving forward with us so we have that…I want to do what is best for the citizens of Madison, we are just trying to find out exactly what that is.”
Hodges and Joyce want to be proactive to ensure the amount of ethylene oxide, a gas deemed to “definitely cause cancer” by the Environmental Protection Agency, is within a safe range of emissions for the local citizens.
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.”
For Joyce, Carr’s words about BD Bard’s lack of cooperation initially should be a warning to Madison.
“That doesn’t sound to me like they are good corporate citizens,” said Joyce. “Had it not been for a whistleblower, we would have never known about this. It doesn’t give me any confidence that we can believe what they are saying. The test results in Covington show there is a lot more risk there than what they were saying.”
Joyce is hoping the state will intervene in Madison as they did in Covington.
“The Madison plant emits less than the Covington Plant, according to their self-reported numbers, but that’s not a big difference,” said Joyce. “The Madison plant needs to be looked at as rigorously as the Covington Plant.”
Joyce also noted that if state regulators do not step in, he is willing to advocate for the city to take the reigns on this issue.
“I am ready to take some action on this ourselves if the state won’t do it,” said Joyce. “I would ask our city to pay for air testing our of our own emergency fund and then check into legal action against BD Bard to recover the expense.”
“The citizens are entitled to a sense of confidence that the 557 pounds of a known carcinogen being released in the air poses no harm to them,” said Joyce.
BD Bard, which plants to reopen the Covington Plant on Nov. 7, maintains that the company operates legally and safely and has complied to the demands of state regulators.
“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.