Independent air testing near Becton Dickinson’s Covington sterilizing plant detected ethylene oxide levels above the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s safety threshold. But experts hired by the company, quoted in a Friday court filing, say those levels aren’t a threat to public health. ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Congressional task force created to address ethylene oxide emissions

A bipartisan congressional task force focused on ethylene oxide regulations was announced Wednesday.

The task force was formed by U.S. Rep. Jody Hice (R-Monroe) and Illinois Democrat Brad Schneider, and will urge the Environmental Protection Agency to act on community concerns over ethylene oxide emissions, which have come under scrutiny since it the chemical was reclassified as a carcinogen in 2016 by the EPA.

Ethylene oxide is used at seven plants in Georgia — including to sterilize single-use medical devices at Sterigenics near Smyrna, Becton Dickinson in Covington and Sterilization Services of Georgia in south Fulton County.

Sterigenics also operated a facility in Willowbrook, Ill., until they were forced to close that location after sustained community protests and political pressure.

“The well-being of our constituents must always be our first priority – and it is a responsibility that extends across party lines and political ideologies,” Hice said in a prepared statement announcing the task force. “Our Congressional districts face the threat of ethylene oxide emissions, and acting as individuals, many of us have already called upon the EPA to carry out its duty to properly regulate this toxic chemical.”

Schneider said the EPA needs to create “science-based rules and educate the public on the threat” of ethylene oxide.

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division has come under scrutiny for relying on self-reported emissions data from the companies that use ethylene oxide. The EPD did not notify the public when federal regulators elevated the risk associated with ethylene oxide, which remained unknown until a July report by WebMD and Georgia Health News highlighted the increased risk in the Smyrna and Covington areas.

Other Georgia representatives on the task force include Hank Johnson (D-Lithonia), Barry Loudermilk (R-Cassville), and David Scott (D-Atlanta).

A majority of the task force members have also co-sponsored legislation that proposes the EPA issue strict ethylene oxide emission regulations, and require notification to the public within 30 days of learning regulations have been broken.

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