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Residents fear cancer risk

Report shows elevated risks of ethylene oxide from Covington plant

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    Concerned citizens pack the banquet facility at Legion Field in Covington on Monday, Aug. 5, 2019, for a special meeting to discuss recent reports about possible unsafe levels of ethylene oxide released by the Becton Dickinson plant. Some Walton County residents were among the crowd, citing their proximity to the medical equipment sterilization facility. Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston promised independent testing.

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Posted: Saturday, August 10, 2019 12:00 am

COVINGTON, Ga. — Local residents gathered inside the banquet hall at Legion Field on Monday to address their concerns to Becton Dickinson, an industrial plant residents believe are poisoning the air with ethylene oxide.

Ellen Kondracki, vice president of environmental health and safety for BD, assured the residents BD’s facility is operating as it should. Kondracki emphasized the facility destructs 99.95% of EtO emissions when the facility is only required by law to destroy 99% of emissions.

“If it was so perfect, we wouldn’t be here tonight,” Alisa Hunt, local resident, said in response to Kondracki.

During the July 23 Newton County Board of Commissioners meeting, Kondracki said BD has been working for decades to sterilize medical devices to ensure the protection of patients from infectious diseases. One of the methods used to sterilize the devices is EtO.

As residents claimed EtO emissions from BD were causing cancer in Newton County and surrounding areas, Kondracki said, “We do not feel that anything we are doing is causing anyone to be sick.”

Repeat exposure to EtO “has been associated with the occurrence of cancer, reproductive effects, mutagenic changes, neurotoxicity and sensitization,” according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Karen Hays, branch chief for the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, confirmed BD self monitors EtO emissions. As of Aug. 5, there has not been any EtO emissions monitoring from an independent company.

Claire Brown, a local resident, said BD was “feeding this community lies.”

Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston assured residents there would be testing completed in the future by an independent company.

“We are going to do everything we can, to work with these folks, to make sure this community is safe today and for generations to come,” he said.

Residents requested the independent company not be funded by BD, and in response, Johnston said, “We will figure out how to pay for this to make sure it’s an independent test, to make sure it has nothing to do with Bard (BD).”

Johnston also said in a statement Wednesday, a “Covington Breathes” committee focused on air quality will be created. This will be “a group that is responsible for helping your elected officials ensure the air in Covington is safe for all of us.”

Cindy Jordan, a Walton County resident, was concerned surrounding areas are being affected by the EtO emissions and requested air quality testing be completed 20 to 25 miles outside of Newton County.

“If you just stay in Covington, you are missing an entire group of people,” Jordan said.

Representatives from Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s office along with other state and local elected officials were in attendance at the meeting.

The city of Covington will hold a town hall meeting Aug. 20 to continue the discussion of the issue.

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