By Tia Lynn Ivey, Managing Editor
In response to growing fears surrounding the prevalent use of ethylene oxide, a cancer-causing gas, Morgan County’s very own Jody Hice, Republican House Congressman for Georgia’s 10th District, formed a task force to push for greater oversight and regulation of the carcinogen gas from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
“The well-being of our constituents must always be our first priority – and it is a responsibility that extends across party lines and political ideologies,” Hice said in a statement announcing the task force. “Our Congressional districts face the threat of ethylene oxide emissions, and acting as individuals, many of us have already called upon the EPA to carry out its duty to properly regulate this toxic chemical.”
The new task force is a bipartisan effort, Hice joined forces with Democratic Congressman Brad Schneider from Illinois. Other Georgia representatives on the task force include Hank Johnson (D-Lithonia), Barry Loudermilk (R-Cassville), and David Scott (D-Atlanta).
Madison is home to one of the seven industrial plants in Georgia that use ethylene oxide. Madison’s BD Bard plant is under scrutiny after its sister plant in Covington was forced to shut down by the state when local officials detected elevated ethylene oxide emissions in the air.
In July, an investigative report released by Georgia Health News and WebMD shed light on the use of ethylene oxide and elevated cancer rates in the Covington and Smyrna areas. The report also sparked a backlash against the EPA and Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD) for using self-reported statistics from private corporations on how much ethylene oxide is emitted into the air. Ethylene oxide’s risk was elevated in 2016 after the EPA determined it as a gas that “definitely causes cancer.” The EPD did not make an effort to publicize this fact.
After the report was published, the EPA and State leaders began investigating the Covington Plant, finding disturbing results that culminated with Governor Brian Kemp filing a legal order to have the plant temporarily shutdown.
Georgia State Attorney General Chris Carr released a statement last month 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 officials, 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.”
The EPD has not committed to any air testing in Madison, but is requiring safety and efficiency upgrades be made to the Madison BD Plant as well as the Covington plant. According to BD Bard’s self-reported numbers, the Madison plant emits 557 pounds of ethylene oxide into the air, slightly less than the Covington plants self-reported numbers.
Local City of Madison leaders are working with State Representative Dave Belton to keep on top of the BD Bard plant as the results of further investigations come to light about the Covington plant.
“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 City Councilman Eric Joyce. City leaders are waiting to review a new evaluation conducted by the EPD at the Covington plant.
BD Bard, which reopened the Covington Plant on Nov. 7 after a week-long shutdown, maintains that the company operates legally and safely and has complied to the demands of state regulators. The Covington plant shut down for one week
“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.