News & Events

Residents Allege Local Plant’s Ethylene Oxide Emissions for Medical Issues

Posted on July 21, 2021

Residents of Covington, GA will file over 150 chemical exposure lawsuits against a local sterilization plant allegedly releasing high levels of a carcinogenic chemical.

The Becton Dickinson (BD) Covington facility was established in the neighborhood in 1967. In their complaint the plaintiffs claim the plant, which sterilizes medical equipment, is responsible for their cancer and other medical issues through the “long-term release of ethylene oxide into this community.”

Complaints claim facility managers consistently failed to report or downplayed the severity of chemical leaks. They further claim that the danger and possible side effects associated with ethylene oxide (EtO) exposure was repeatedly concealed from the public.

The facility has been under legal fire before for its EtO emissions. In early 2019, GA state officials alleged 54.5 pounds of the chemical gas had leaked into the surrounding communities over the course of a week due to negligence.

BD denied any negligence at the time, claiming their emissions were well within allowable amounts dictated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA). Ultimately, BD and the GA state attorney came to an agreement, including a weeklong shut-down while the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) took ambient air monitoring samples in the area, operating at reduced capacity, and continuing to move forward with voluntary improvements to the facility.

The EPA has stepped up its own response to EtO emissions, announcing changes to its Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) program in April of this year. Changes included expanding the scope of reporting requirements of EtO and increasing accessibility for the public. The April changes specifically expand the TRI reporting to include certain contact sterilizers using EtO for medical devices. The EPA warns that workers in facilities that utilize EtO and communities living adjacent to these facilities have the highest risks for exposure.

The lawsuits filed in Covington focus on cancer patients and their families as long-term residents of the community around the BD facility. According to the complaint, “they all have had repeated and substantial exposure over a number of years,” said Darren W. Penn, counsel for plaintiffs. “[BD’s EtO emissions] violated the law, violated the regulations for years and years and subjected the individuals in this community to harmful levels of ethylene oxide.”

In a statement to press, BD denied allegations and asserted they are taking every reasonable precaution to control EtO emissions. Furthermore, the levels of EtO in the area around the Covington facility are not elevated. BD contends that air monitoring data collected over the past two years show the level of EtO in the Covington area is no higher than the average, ambient levels of EtO found in the atmosphere throughout George and the US.

Click here to read the complaint.