COVINGTON, Ga. - The Georgia Environmental Protection Division announced Friday, Aug. 16 an air quality plan to measure ethylene oxide levels around Becton Dickinson, or BD, in Covington and Sterigenics in Smyrna. BD and Sterigenics use EtO to sterilize medical equipment.
The two facilities are located in areas identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as having high cancer risk. The findings of elevated risks from EtO exposures were not due to new or increased emissions but rather the United States Environmental Protection Agency's found knowledge on how harmful long-term exposure to EtO may be, according to the EPD news release.
"Air samples will be collected at each site every six days over the next several months. Four monitoring locations for each community are being chosen ranging in distance from a quarter-mile to a mile from the company property, both upwind and downwind," according to the release. "Equipment will be in the field within the next few weeks. A commercial laboratory will conduct the testing and results are expected in early November."
Not only will the Georgia EPD monitor Smyrna and Covington, but the agency will also monitor area outside of the permitted source of EtO.
"This is done for purposes of identifying baseline levels of air pollution in areas where there is no known source of ethylene oxide," according to the release. "EPD will use that information to get a better understanding of the facilities impact on air quality."
The Georgia EPD released its news release after U.S. Congressman Hank Johnson and the Georgia Chemistry Council released statements on EtO earlier in the week.
Johnson sent letters to the U.S. EPA and Georgia EPD demanding answers as to why Covington residents were not informed of EtO emissions being released into the air. He asked what the EPA and EPD are doing to protect the people who live near the plant.
In Johnson's letters to the EPA and EPD, he wrote: "In December 2016, the EPA published the results of a 10-year study officially classifying ethylene oxide as a harmful carcinogenic air pollutant. It concluded that humans exposed to ethylene oxide for long periods of time are at increased risk of contracting leukemia, lymphoma, and breast cancers.
"Despite EPA’s knowledge of the significant danger ethylene oxide poses, the agency has seemingly failed to mitigate the release of the toxin. Moreover, the EPA has not issued any press releases about these findings notifying residents living within exposed areas -- failing to even notify families and communities that the very air they breathe could be poisonous.
"Only through diligent reporting did citizens learn of the potential peril from a carcinogenic in the air, information that the EPA held for two years. This lack of action is contrary to the EPA’s mission to ensure Americans have clean air and healthy living conditions.”
Karen Hays, EPD branch chief, confirmed that BD self-monitored EtO emissions during the Monday, Aug. 5 Covington City Council meeting.
The Georgia Chemistry Council issued a news release on the recent developments surrounding EtO Wednesday, Aug. 14, stating that EtO was an "important building block." The GCC went on to explain that the assessments by the U.S. EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System were "severely flawed."
"The IRIS assessment - which is largely based on modeling, not real-world exposure information - dramatically overestimates the cancer hazard of EtO, deeming it unsafe at levels far below what is found in our everyday environment," the GCC press release stated. "In fact, the EtO cancer value derived from EPA’s modeling is 19,000 times lower than the normal, naturally created levels of EtO in the human body."
In the press release, the GCC stated that EtO is used in certain plastics, household cleaners, safety glass, adhesives, textiles and detergents. It was also stated that EtO is produced by plant decay, vehicle exhaust, cooking oils, cigarette smoke and other sources.
The U.S. EPA is hosting an ethylene oxide communication information meeting, held at the Historic Covington Courthouse, at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 20. An open house will start at 5 p.m. the same day to provide an opportunity for individuals to talk one-on-one with staff from U.S. EPA and other agencies, along with representatives of community organizations, about their concerns related to EtO.