By Tia Lynn Ivey
Madison City officials met with State Representative Dave Belton last week to discuss concerns over the BD Bard plant in Madison after the Covington Plant was forced to temporarily shutdown by the state due to elevated emissions detected of a cancer-causing gas called ethylene oxide.
Mayor Fred Perriman, Councilman Rick Blanton, Councilman Eric Joyce and City Manager David Nunn met with Belton to enlist his help in ensuring the Madison Bard plant will undergo the same safety enhancements as the Covington Plant.
“He pledged his whole-hearted support to the safety of our city and county,” said Perriman about Belton at Monday night’s regular meeting.
According to Nunn, Belton promised to keep Madison officials in the loop every step of the way as the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) works with BD Bard to lower ethylene oxide emissions and enhance equipment and training procedures.
“We also got assurances from Representative Belton and from EPD that we are going to be in direct line of communication about the operation in Madison,” said Nunn.
Councilman Joyce agreed to wait and see if BD Bard follows through with changes prescribed by the EPD, but remained wary of the situation. The Madison plant has until May 31, 2020 to complete all the the new and improved changes to the facility.
“I have concerns about the operations here,” said Joyce at Monday night’s meeting. But Mr. Belton did promise to act as a sort of liaison between us and the EPD to make sure we get timely information. The new and improved procedures are supposed to be in place in Madison by May 31 of next year…I am not totally convinced, but I am willing to give more time here before we do anything more drastic.”
Belton praised Governor Brian Kemp for his proactive efforts to facilitate a legally-binding consent order between the EPD and Bard to further reduce ethylene oxide emissions.
“The Governor’s achievement has been laudable,” said Belton. “Myself and Senators Burt Jones and Brian Strickland have also been working daily with the Governor’s team. Through our combined efforts, BD has made several important concessions – that they were not legally required to make – to keep our families safe.”
Belton also praised Madison City officials.
“I also want to commend Mayor Fred Perriman and the entire Madison City Council for their prudence on this issue,” said Belton. “By remaining calm and studying the science of situation, they have reaped all of the benefits of the events in Smyrna and Covington without having to spend tens of thousands of tax payer dollars.”
Belton issued a statements cautioning the public from lumping the Madison plant in with the Covington Plant, despite the fact that both plants utilize ethylene oxide to sterilize medical equipment. Belton noted that the Madison plant was not flagged in the initial 2014 NATA EPA study that first raised concerns about ethylene oxide emissions in Covington.
“The only reason we are talking about Madison is the fact that BD happens to use ETO in both Covington and Madison. But ETO is used in dozens of other companies throughout Georgia, and we aren’t talking about them,” said Belton.
Councilman Eric Joyce, however, is concerned that the Madison plant is only being evaluated by the company’s self-reported numbers without an independent air test conducted in Madison to measure ethylene oxide levels.
““I think we have had our eyes opened by the situation in Covington,” said Councilman Joyce last week. “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.”
While the EPD has called for improvements to be made at the Madison plant, no air test has been slated as of yet.
““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.
Belton also noted BD Bard is planning to spend a total of 8 million dollars to further reduce ethylene oxide emissions in both Covington and Madison. “That will destroy 99.99 percent of their ETO emission,” said Belton.
Belton wants people to take comfort in the fact the EPD is now actively checking up on BD Bard.
“The EPD is now fully engaged in the operations in both BD plants in Covington and Madison,” said Belton. “In the first week of the implementation of this new consent order, BD admitted they made a small error at the Madison plant and immediately reported their error to the EPD. In response, the EPD did a surprise spot inspection at the Madison plant to ensure further strict compliance. Everyone on both sides is taking this very seriously – as they should.”
Madison City officials pledged to keep up on the issue and discuss further what should be done as more information comes to light from the EPD.