COVINGTON — The city of Covington has completed its seven-day air testing for ethylene oxide (Et0), but Mayor Ronnie Johnston said Monday night that the results may have been tainted.
The BD Bard plant in Covington had an unintended release of Et0 from Sept. 15-22, but it wasn’t reported until Sept. 27. Two days of the air testing by Covington occurred during the time when BD had the release, so the extra amount of Et0 released could skew the overall results.
Montrose Air Quality Services, the firm hired by the city to conduct the air testing, is expected to give a presentation on the analysis of the testing at the City Council meeting on Oct. 21.
During the unintended release by BD Bard, a valve was left open and approximately 7 pounds of Et0 were released each day over the eight-day period for a total release of 54.5 pounds of ethylene oxide. State regulations do not require an organization to self-report spills under 10 pounds in a 24-hour period, but BD Bard notified the EPD of the release on Sept. 27, five days after the cause of the release had been found and corrected.
“It was very frustrating that happened,” said Johnston. “We got daily affidavits from the company. We knew exactly what poundage they were using every day for the 24-hour-a-day cycle.
“Unfortunately, during our process of testing, at the same exact time, there was some leakage or spillage,” said Johnston. “So I have immediately entered into discussions with Bard about them paying for the cost of the entire first test and us re-testing as soon as possible. That conversation is not getting anywhere right now.
“I’m trying to remove as many of the conspiracy theories and all that stuff and have a pure as we possibly can get measurement,” the mayor added. “When a couple of days of our testing process potentially could get skewed based on a leakage issue, I’m not sure that’s going to give the best results, because again, the ultimate goal here is to work with the community, work with Bard, to make sure that Covington is completely 100% safe, period.”
In 2016 the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 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, where cancer risks were elevated because of exposure to airborne toxins such as ethylene oxide.
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 and around Covington.
BD Bard agreed to a voluntary reduction 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 plant in Covington.
But Covington decided to go a step further by conducting their own independent testing and in August, the city council hired Montrose Air Quality Services to do air testing for ethylene oxide for $66,815. Montrose was chosen because it is not associated or connected with BD Bard and the City Council felt it would give the most thorough evaluation of the exposure to ethylene oxide.