Gov. Brian Kemp. EMILY HANEY /
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Georgia governor demands BD Bard curb toxic gas emissions 

Gov. Brian Kemp demanded that a medical sterilization facility in Covington take “proactive” measures to install pollution controls, shortly before a Tuesday town hall meeting focused on toxic gas emissions at the site.

The Republican said BD Bard should agree to adopt the same type of pollution controls that Sterigenics, a Cobb County plant, agreed to put in place to help minimize ethylene oxide emissions spewing from the factory.

“This proactive measure demonstrates the company’s commitment to the local community and helps to restore confidence in its operations,” Kemp said. “Now BD Bard should do the same.”

His remarks came as Kemp’s administration faces calls from local officials urging the state to shut down the two industrial facilities until more testing can be done. 

The Republican made the decision shortly after meeting with Sterigenics and BD Bard executives to prod them to take new measures to “build trust” with outraged residents. He described the meetings as productive but said “our work is not done.” 

Kemp’s under pressure to take decisive action to curb emissions of ethylene oxide at the plants, sparked by a 2018 WebMD and Georgia Health News report about a federal study that warned of increased long-term risk of cancer around the two facilities from ethylene oxide.

Several Democratic lawmakers have called on him to shut down the Sterigenics sterilization facility in Smyrna until testing can prove it is not violating emissions regulations for ethylene oxide, a cancer-causing gas. 

And throngs of residents have packed town halls demanding the state take sweeping action. More than 1,000 people crowded inside the Cobb County Civic Center on Monday night for a meeting; hundreds more are expected at a town hall in Covington on Tuesday. 

Scrambling to respond to the growing outrage, state environmental officials on Friday said they would begin testing more gas emissions at the plants, though the sampling falls short of more stringent requirements sought by residents and elected officials. 

Georgia regulators also recently reached an agreement with Sterigenics to install new pollution controls that are expected to cost the firm about $2.5 million and take at least three months to complete.

The gas, used to sterilize medical equipment, has long been known to be harmful, but in 2016 the Environmental Protection Agency reclassified ethylene oxide as a carcinogen. It has been linked to breast, lymphoid, leukemia and other types of cancers. 

EPA regulators have urged residents not to panic and say modeling with more recent emissions data show a lower risk than last year’s assessment, which relied on samples from 2014. Sterigenics has said it’s complying with state and federal regulations. 

Kemp said he was closely monitoring the conversations and that his administration will “continue to operate with transparency and demand accountability throughout this process.” 

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.