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In August of 2018 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a National Air Toxics Assessment (NATA) identifying ethylene oxide (ETO) as a cancer causing chemical and identified Covington as an area of concern due to the use of ETO in a facility operated by Becton Dickinson (BD).
Since news of ETO in Covington became known in July of 2019 steps have been taken to try to improve air quality in Covington and Newton County. The Newton County Board of Commissioners are not legislated to regulate air quality or facilitate environmental permits but have been using available channels to try and get the best result possible for its residents.
The EPA has set up an informational website on all things ETO in Covington and it can be found here: https://www.epa.gov/covington-eto
In August the EPA hosted a Town Hall meeting involving the EPD, FDA, health department and others. The full video of that town hall can be found here: https://youtu.be/qbzgoHo9N0I
BD agreed to a consent order with the State of Georgia to close the plant from Oct. 30 to Nov. 6 as ambient air tests are taken. The consent order, agreed to in a Newton County courtroom on Oct. 28, also calls for BD to reduce fugitive emission of ETO to no more than 30 pounds per month and report any un-permitted release of ETO to the EPD
From September 15 to September 22, 2019 BD self-reported an Ethylene Oxide release. According to the report, approximately 7 pounds of Ethylene Oxide was released each day over the eight day period. State regulations do not require an organization to self-report spills under 10 pounds in a 24-hour period, but BD notified the EPD of the release.
The EPD announced it will test for ETO in the air around Covington and Smyrna in August. The agency will take samples every six days for several months with four monitoring locations chosen in Covington. The EPD is actively scouting for sites to place the air monitoring canisters and EPD plans to begin air monitoring in early October. All test results will be shared with community officials and the public. Results will be shared with ATSDR and the Georgia Department of Public Health to be used for health-based studies they are planning to conduct.
In August, the Covington City Council voted on conducting its own sampling and hired Montrose Environmental. Montrose Emvironmental will place air collection canisters in 10 locations in Covington at determined locations including some that are in close proximity to BD. Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston said testing will be conducted "as far as Conyers and as far as Burge Plantation" in Newton County. Covington plans on having the results toward the end of October. Tests will be conducted throughout a seven day period with more than 40 samples being taken and sent to two different labs.
Newton County Chairman Marcello Banes announced during the Board of Commissioners Sept. 3 meeting that he will be working closely with Georgia Governor Brian Kemp on making Newton County’s air the best it can be in regards to ETO. Banes said he is eager to see the governor’s plan and will follow the state’s lead on this important issue.