COVINGTON - Residents are alarmed and angry and Covington officials are looking for answers following an article by Georgia Health News and WebMD revealing that the BD Bard plant on Industrial Boulevard is releasing a toxin into the air that has been determined to cause cancer. The article was reprinted with permission on the Citizen webpage Monday morning and an edited version appears in this print edition.
BD Bard, formerly C.R. Bard, has been releasing a gas called ethylene oxide into the air for decades. Ethylene oxide is used on about half the medical products in the U.S. that require sterilization, according to industry estimates. It’s also used to make other chemicals, like antifreeze.
In 2016, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) put ethylene oxide on a list of chemicals that definitely cause cancer. The EPA also updated a key risk number for the chemical to reflect that it was 30 times more likely to cause certain cancers than scientists had once known. Two years later, in 2018, the agency flagged 109 census tracts across the country, including Covington, where cancer risks were elevated because of exposure to airborne toxins. Yet the EPA made a decision not to put out a press release, and state regulators Environmental Protection Division (EPD) did not issue one, either.
In the neighborhoods that have been impacted in Georgia, such as Covington, people are just hearing about the hazard — from Georgia Health News and WebMD — nearly a year after the federal government released its official list of the hotspots. And they’re not happy.
The city of Covington released the following statement concerning the information just now coming out:
“We just became aware of the article and the allegations against BD. Know that the safety of our citizens is our highest priority. We have reached out to the EPA, BD and our state representatives. As more information is gathered, the city will take appropriate action as necessary to protect our citizens.”
But residents who read the article on the Citizens’ website are alarmed and angry. Six hours after the article was posted, the Newton Citizen Facebook page had received 84 comments and 386 shares.
One Covington woman commented that something should have been done a long time ago.
“Beyond troubling? It's unacceptable! I've lost both of my parents to cancer and it makes me wonder if it could have been prevented had we moved out of this town because they are responsible! I'm angry and sad.”
Another city resident expressed concern that more than just residents who live in the area may be affected.
“What about the stores in that area that people shop at every day, the parks the kids play at, the ball fields, are any of them 'safe' to go to or work at anymore? The number of people that have gotten sick from that haven't been added to these numbers!”
A local real estate agent calls the area around the plant a "death trap."
“This company should pack their things up and go. This is horrible. My heart is broken! A broken heart won’t change the lives that have already been taken, those that are sick now, and those that will die later. Something needs to be done ASAP. How could the city or the state let this happen for so many years and not do anything. Do you really love your community? I’m so sad! As a real estate agent it makes me furious that so many purchased homes here just to die."