The EPD required BD to reduce emissions of the carcinogenic gas ethylene oxide (EtO) from two sterilization plants located southeast of Atlanta in Covington and Madison, Ga. BD completed installation of $8 million worth of equipment to limit emissions from the plants in March 2020. The Covington plant resumed operations later that month.
The new air pollution control systems at BD Madison went online on June 30, according to the EPD. The agency recently verified that the air pollution controls systems at BD Covington are operating properly, and is awaiting the final report on the BD Madison validation testing, according to Karen Hays, head of the EPD’s air protection branch. BD acquired the plants when it bought C.R. Bard in 2017.
Both plants are operating under a modified consent order put into place on March 25, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The order, which is still in effect, temporarily increased the number of medical devices BD is allowed to sterilize and allowing the company to make temporary changes to its aeration time. This change increases the limits on product lots sterilized per month from 600 to 825 in Covington and from 603 to 685 in Madison and modifies the minimum heated aeration period for sterilized product from 24 to 20 hours at the Covington facility, according to BD spokesman Troy Kirkpatrick.
Residents living near Atlanta-area medtech sterilization plants operated by BD and Sterigenics have been clamoring for tighter regulations on emissions of the sterilant gas since the July 2019 publication of an investigative report by Georgia Health News and WebMD.
The first six of what attorneys said could be more than 100 lawsuits were filed recently in Georgia against BD and Sterigenics by people who have lived, worked or attended school near those companies’ medical device sterilization plants. The plaintiffs have been diagnosed with leukemia, lymphoma or breast cancer, according to attorney Cale Conley of Conley Griggs Partin in Atlanta.
BD does not comment on pending litigation, but Kirkpatrick said in an email that “there are vast amounts of air-monitoring data that provide insights to actual levels of ethylene oxide (EtO) present in greater Atlanta and across Georgia.”
The Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) released EtO air monitoring data on August 20, 2020 for a variety of areas around the state.
“This data shows that average levels of EtO in Covington, Ga. are exactly the same as the levels found in the rural General Coffee State Park and below levels found at EPD’s background monitoring station in South DeKalb, Ga. approximately 30 miles from BD’s facility in Covington,” Kirkpatrick said. “The data also show that average levels across the greater Atlanta area are about the same in areas where there are EtO sterilization facilities and areas where there are not EtO sterilization facilities. The data suggests that those who live in communities with sterilization facilities are exposed to similar amounts of EtO as those who do not live near the facilities because of other sources of EtO, including naturally occurring sources.”