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Belton: Your health is my only concern
Belton, Dave
State Rep. Dave Belton

I want to update you on what happened at the Town Hall meeting concerning EtO at the Bard plants in Covington and Madison.

As a brief recap, ethylene oxide is a natural chemical that is found in small quantities in nature. It is literally everywhere and is caused by many natural and man-made processes including car emissions and the natural decomposition of plants. It is used in large quantities for many purposes, including making anti-freeze, cosmetics, and to sterilize medical equipment.

The federal EPA recently released a report called the “2014 NATA” that said Smyrna and Covington have “potentially greater cancer risks” because of EtO. Madison was not flagged, but Bard operates the same sort of plant there. After receiving these results, the EPA then re-evaluated Smyrna and Covington and determined that they are actually “significantly lower” than the 2014 NATA estimating models and are within EPA limits, and “were not likely high enough to cause immediate harm to health.” These results were only published very recently.

The EPA apologized for not informing anyone about this years ago. They also said they with new technology they are surprised to find that EtO exists even in rural areas, miles and miles from any plant. For instance, it was just discovered that a random forest in Kentucky has just as much EtO in the air as the Bard plant. Another recent test in DeKalb showed a level twice as high as the Bard plant, even where no EtO plant exists. It seems unlikely that the emissions from these plants are the sole cause of EtO existing in these far-flung areas.

To be clear, the levels near the nearest residence in Covington are much lower than at the Bard plants, are within EPA standards, and are far below the levels found in a forest in Kentucky or the air in DeKalb. There is no evidence that anyone has gotten cancer from these plants. The Bard plants eliminate 99.95% of the EtO they use, which is much better than the 99% requirement. Also, Bard has promised to make an $8 million investment to further reduce its emissions, a much larger commitment than the $2.5 million investment that Sterigenics is making in Smyrna.

To be safe, however, Gov. Brian Kemp has instructed Bard to take more “proactive measures” to even further reduce emissions. The EPD has also committed to thorough and extensive air quality testing around these plants. The City has also hired a firm to do its own testing. Additionally, the EPA is in the process of changing federal regulations about EtO.

I applaud the Governor’s actions and remain committed to staying fully engaged with both federal and state agencies to reduce this risk. The health and well being of the citizens of Morgan and Newton counties are my only concern.

If you have questions, please feel free to contact me at 706-372-4114 or