Tia Lynn Ivey
A new court order is mandating BD Bard to pay the city of Madison $65,000 due to the company’s previous violations in the production of ethylene oxide, a known cancer-causing gas. Madison is home to one of the seven industrial plants in Georgia that use ethylene oxide. Madison’s BD Bard plant has been 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—as high as 5,600 a year.
According to a court ruling in the case between BD Bard and the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (GEPD), BD Bard is mandated “To mitigate the impact of these issues, BD Bard shall provide a grant of $65,000 to the city of Covington, Ga., and a grant of $65,000 to the city of Madison, Ga.”
According to City Manager David Nunn, no definitive time table has been set for the money to arrive and it will be squarely up to the Madison Mayor and City Council as to how the funds are used.
“It may be directly-related to BD Bard or be for a more general expenditure related to emergency services,” said Nunn. “But it will completely up to the Mayor and Council.”
Nunn expects the council to discuss the issue the next Mayor and Council regular meeting.
City Councilman Eric Joyce is hoping the funds will be used to conduct a third party air test in Madison, since the GEPD has announced no plans to perform air testing in Madison.
“As the Newton County Superior Court continues its oversight of the operations of BD Bard in both Covington and Madison, an agreement has been reached for BD to pay $65,000 to each of the two cities to ‘mitigate the impact’ of BD’s use of ethylene oxide, a known carcinogen, in its operations,” explained Joyce. “While the addendum to the Consent Decree sets no parameters for how the funds should be spent, the amount set by the Court matches the amount of city funds already spent by Covington to contract for outside, third party air testing to help determine the level of health hazard faced by its citizens.”
According to BD Bard’s self-reported numbers, the Madison plant emits an average of 557 pounds of ethylene oxide into the air, slightly less than the Covington plants self-reported numbers. Madison officials question the accuracy of those numbers, since third-party air testing has revealed far higher rates of ethylene oxide in Covington than what the company self-reported.
According to Joyce, the council will decide how best to spend the money.
“I have been assured that the Madison mayor and council will determine how to best spend these funds, and I believe air testing here in Madison is an option deserving of serious consideration by the Council,” said Joyce. “Information coming from Covington continues to concern me, and I feel strongly that the citizens of Madison deserve to know that BD poses them no health threat, and independent testing may provide them that assurance. Other options also hold merit and will be considered, but I will strive to keep the decision-making process in the public realm as much as possible so that our citizens can feel that their voices in this serious matter are being heard.”
The order comes on the heels of a new violation levied against the company from the GEPD. In December, The Covington plant shutdown in November, as state officials continued investigating the company’s use of ethylene oxide and filing more court proceedings after discovering the company was using an non-permitted warehouse on Lochridge Boulevard in Covington releasing even more ethylene oxide into the air in December.
“These results are highly concerning, and we are demanding answers from BD to remedy this unlawful activity,” said Governor Brian Kemp in December.
The entire controversy first came to late in July of 2019 when an investigative report released by Georgia Health News and WebMD questioned the use of ethylene oxide and if it was tied to 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.” According to the report, 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 in October 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 announced 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.
Madison officials have not indicated when the money from BD Bard will come through or how that money will spent.