Town Hall to center on plant’s use of ethylene oxide

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By Tia Lynn Ivey

managing editor 

BD Bard, a manufacturing company recently under scrutiny for its use of a cancer causing gas, ethylene oxide, at the plants in both Covington and Madison, will answer to the public next month. The Madison Mayor and City Council announced at Town Hall meeting with BD Bard officials has been slated for Thursday, March 26 at 7 p.m. in the city’s meeting hall located at 160 North Main Street Suite 400 in Madison. 

“BD Bard is still doing some testing and trying to finalize some things before they come to Madison to make sure everything is in place,” said Mayor Fred Perriman at Monday evening’s regular meeting. 

Perriman noted that city officials have been in contact with BD Bard’s Vice President of Operations, Jason Gaede, to stay up to date on the progress made by the company to come into compliance with mandates from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. 

BD Bard came under fire last summer, when a report was released correlating elevated cancer rates in the Covington area with the company’s use of ethylene oxide, a gas that made the environmantal Protection Agency’s list of gases that “definitely cause cancer.” 

In January, BD Bard was was ordered to pay the cities of Madison and Covington $65,000 each due to the company’s previous violations in the production of ethylene oxide. 

Madison is home to one of the seven industrial plants in Georgia that use ethylene oxide. The spotlight fell on Madison’s BD Bard plant 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 pounds 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.” The company has also agreed to make a slew of upgrades and changes at the Madison and Covington plants to enhance safety and efficiency in order to reduce the amount of ethylene oxide seeping into the air. 

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.” 

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. 

“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. 

The court order came on the heels of another violation levied against the company from the GEPD.  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 light 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. 

City officials are hoping the slated town hall on March 26 will foster a constructive dialogue for citizens to voice their concerns and get some answers from BD Bard officials. 

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