COVINGTON — The Covington City Council unanimously approved a resolution supporting House Bill 774 and House Resolution 385 at their meeting on Feb. 3. Both pieces of legislation deal with the ethylene oxide (EtO) situation.
In 2016 the federal Environmental Protection Agency put EtO on a list of chemicals that definitely cause cancer, and in 2018 the agency flagged 109 census tracts across the country, including Covington and Smyrna, where cancer risks were elevated because of exposure to airborne toxins such as ethylene oxide.
The BD plant on Industrial Boulevard in Covington uses ethylene oxide (EtO) to sterilize medical equipment, then legally releases it into the air. Sterigenics in Smyrna has a similar operation.
The danger remained relatively unknown to most until an article was published in late July by Georgia Health News and WebMD, sparking concern and outrage among residents in those two metro Atlanta communities.
Sterigenics and BD Bard agreed to voluntary reductions of emissions of ethylene oxide and the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) has announced an air quality monitoring plan to measure ethylene oxide levels around the two plants in Smyrna and Covington.
Current state regulations do not require an organization to self-report EtO spills under 10 pounds in a 24-hour period. Under HB 774, any unpermitted release of ethylene oxide would be required to be reported to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.
HR 895 would create a Joint Ethylene Oxide Study Committee. The committee would be made up of 10 members, with the House speaker appointing four members, the Senate president appointing four members, and the other two members being the EPD director and the commissioner of Public Health.
The purpose of the committee would be to conduct a study of the conditions, needs, issues, and problems related to ethylene oxide and recommend any action or legislation which the committee deems necessary or appropriate.
Work on the ethylene oxide situation is also underway at the federal level. In November the EPA proposed amendments which includes a 93% reduction in ethylene oxide emissions from covered facilities. To reduce risks to an acceptable level, EPA is proposing additional requirements for process vents, storage tanks, and equipment in ethylene oxide service. In addition to reducing ethylene oxide emissions, the amendments would include updates to requirements for flares, heat exchange systems, and equipment leaks.
Also in November, a bipartisan congressional task force was formed to focus on addressing the threat of ethylene oxide emissions and urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to act. And H.R. 1152 would require EPA to issue new, strict EtO emissions standards for medical sterilization and chemical facilities and require the EPA to notify the public no more than 30 days after it learns that the new standards have been violated.