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'Give us answers': Residents upset Covington plant leak wasn't disclosed

2016 leak in Covington exceeded Cobb Sterigenics leak in July

COVINGTON, Ga. — Residents in Covington said they are disturbed to learn of a large leak of cancer-causing ethylene oxide from a local plant.  

The BD plant in Covington leaked 85 pounds of it three years ago, according to state records. 

In the community closest to the Covington BD plant, residents said the presence of cancer-causing gas could explain a lot.

"There's people all around here with cancer," said Jane Bledsoe. "We’ve got cancer cases up that way on Wheat Street."

Residents of Covington said there are neighborhood cancer clusters too close to the BD plant. There is no evidence linking the sickness to the plant, which has been a reliable employer in the community for decades.

The cancer patients in the nearby Mill Town community include Bledsoe’s husband, Steven.

"He lasted 15 months," after his diagnosis, his widow said. "He passed away of pancreatic cancer."

The BD plant uses ethylene oxide, a compound linked to cancer, to sterilize medical devices.  In January 2016 the plant leaked 85 pounds of it, according to the state Environmental Protection Division.

RELATED: They both emit the same cancer-causing toxin, but there are big differences between the companies

It dwarfs a six pound leak at the Sterigenics plant in Cobb County last month. 

BD said it fully disclosed the leak to state and local authorities. But it’s news to Fleeta Baggett, who said she pays attention. Her family has lived in Covington seven generations. 

"Once they received that information, when was it dispersed? Who was it dispersed to?" Baggett asked.

"Where did it spill? We have no more knowledge as to what’s going on over there, and it’s very hush hushed," added Alisa Hunt, a Mill Town resident.

RELATED: BD admits plants in Covington, Madison have experienced ethylene oxide leaks

The state said it disclosed the leak to the Newton County officials. Newton County’s Emergency Management director Jody Nolan told 11Alive residents weren’t notified because “there was not an immediate danger to life or health” and the leak was contained on-site.  

He said it wasn't deemed an emergency because the spill was "confined to the premises" and didn't affect waterways.

BD said its Covington plant operates well beyond the minimal regulatory requirements, and that its permit "allows approximately 10,000 pounds of ethylene oxide emissions in 2018." 

"Due to excellent technology and continuous improvement, it only emitted 656.3 pounds in 2018," a spokeswoman writes in an email to 11Alive News.

The spokeswoman writes BD "is confident the company has been doing the right thing for decades, and will continue to do so."

RELATED: 

What is ethylene oxide?

Gov. Kemp says state investigating July evacuation at Sterigenics

Lawmakers: Residents in Fulton County should also be concerned about cancer-causing chemicals