Covington residents concerned about industrial plant's use of cancer-causing chemical

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Dozens packed Fair Hall at Legion Field in Covington Monday night, worried about cancer and other health problems they suspect could be connected to a nearby industrial plant.

The BD plant manufacturers and sterilizes medical equipment with a chemical known as Ethylene Oxide, EtO which was reclassified as a cancer-causing agent a few years ago.

New father Patrick Brennan was among the worried.

“When my son was born what assurance do I have that his very first breath of life did not include poison,” Brennan said from the podium.

Others, like Debbie Breamon, who stood in the long line to voice her opinion asked city, state, and BD plant representatives to be straight forward with the community.

MORE: EPA: Facilities releasing ‘cancer-causing chemicals’

“Don’t just give us a bunch of corporate speak, don’t give us a bunch of political speak:” she said.

Representatives with the state’s Environmental Protection Division told the crowd BD meets all parameters and is often inspected and self reports acceptable EtO safe levels to the state.

However, Karen Hays, who works with the EPD Air Protection branch, conceded there is no independent monitoring of BD EtO emissions.

“Right now we don’t have air quality monitoring in the area,” Hays told an obviously disappointed crowd.

The crowd's disappointment was belayed by the city promising to look carefully into independent testing.

“Whatever testing we do and we’re willing to do whatever testing we have to. We do not want to scare people without having the facts and that’s our whole goal,” said Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston.

Many people are scared. Several, including Melissa Nelson, spoke of cancer in their families and neighborhoods

 “I lost my mother of pancreatic cancer in February. A lot of you all knew her,” said Nelson.

Representatives of BD were also on hand, talking about already taking voluntary measures to reduce EtO emissions to better than acceptable standards and their strong belief in the plant's safety.

Ellen Kondracki, the vice president for environmental health and safety at BD, told the crowd BD incinerates the majority of the EtO emissions to reduce emissions and takes all steps necessary to make sure the plant is safe.

“I want to be very clear on this we do not feel that anything we are doing is causing anyone to be sick,” said Kondracki.

Georgia Congressman Hank Johnson and representatives from the Governor’s Office and other local and state official were on hand to pledge their support.

The city of Covington plans to hold another Town Hall style meeting on Aug. 20.