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Mayor: 'The safety of our citizens is our highest priority'
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COVINGTON, Ga. - Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston said he is concerned about some of the recent claims made about Covington's air quality and plans to stop at nothing to make sure the citizens of the city are safe. 

According to a recent report released by WebMD and Georgia Health News, ethylene oxide is connected to an increased number of cancer diagnoses in the Covington area. Ethylene oxide is reportedly released into the air by BD (formerly known as Bard) as part of the company's medical equipment sterilization process. 

"In Covington, it estimated the gas causes 214 cases (of cancer) for every million people exposed," according to the report. 

Johnston said since the report's release, Friday, July 19, he has been in contact with BD representatives, state and federal legislators and EPA leaders.

"You all may have read an article recently published about the health concerns associated with BD, formerly known as Bard," he said. "We just became aware of the article and the allegations against BD. Know that the safety of our citizens is our highest priority. (Monday), we have briefly spoken with our state representatives, officials from the EPA and BD and are awaiting further detail. As more information is gathered, the city will take appropriate action as necessary to protect our citizens."

BD also released the following statement Monday in reference to the report:

PDF: BD Statement

"BD cares deeply for our employees and the communities in which we operate. We are an important part of the Covington community and take our responsibility to be a good corporate citizen very seriously.

"We simply would not operate a facility that we do not feel is safe for employees and neighboring residential areas. We continue to take all steps necessary to ensure the safe operation of our facility in Covington, and we are confident our emissions at the Covington facility are below all government requirements.

"As part of our commitment to the well-being of our communities, BD’s Environmental Health and Safety standards ensure that all BD facilities are designed and operate with a high level of process safety and environmental controls. We have been safely sterilizing medical devices in Covington for decades. We invest in and deploy best available emission control technology at our facility in Covington and achieve greater than 99.95% destruction of ethylene oxide in our plant emissions. We verify the effectiveness of emission destruction through stack testing (conducted by an independent third-party), in accordance with permit requirements. BD meets or exceeds all local, state and federal ethylene oxide emission standards in Covington, including the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants, and our ethylene oxide levels are well below all requirements under the Clean Air Act.

"As part of our ongoing efforts to responsibly produce BD medical devices, we continue to work collaboratively with state and federal environmental agencies and industry groups to understand the potential impact of any new risk assessments and modeling exercises. It is important to note that the recent Georgia Environmental Protection Department report that estimated acceptable ambient concentration levels of ethylene oxide is based on computer modeling of ethylene oxide and not actual air monitoring or sampling. As we work with Georgia EPD to determine any potential actions from this modeling exercise, we want to ensure that our employees and the people in the surrounding communities fully understand our commitment to safety and are aware that these are hypothetical numbers based on models — not actual air readings that take into consideration ethylene oxide emissions attributable to other sources, such as emissions from cars, trucks and buses.

"In addition, neither Georgia EPD nor U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has asked BD to take any actions as a result of this report, as our ethylene oxide levels in Covington are well below all required levels. BD uses best available emission control technology in Covington and continuously monitors for new technologies to evaluate effectiveness for even further reduction of ethylene oxide emissions, and we are ready to act in the spirit of continuous improvement and employee and community safety.

"We sterilize our medical devices with ethylene oxide in order to protect patients from the risks of infectious diseases caused by bacteria, viruses and fungi. We are committed to the safe use of ethylene oxide sterilization, which is essential to a functioning and effective health care system. For a large number of medical devices, ethylene oxide is the only option for sterilization due to material sensitivities and/or the complexity of design. Many devices can be damaged by moist heat, radiation and other modes of sterilization. In fact, AdvaMed estimates that roughly half of all medical devices — or about 20 billion devices annually in the U.S. — are sterilized by ethylene oxide in accordance with U.S. Food and Drug Administration requirements.

"At BD, we take all steps necessary to ensure the safe operation of our facilities in Covington and around the world."


The Covington News has reached out to local medical professionals, elected officials and experts in the field to provide more in-depth coverage on this report and its claims. We will continue to provide updates as they become available.