FILE- Chris Carr, Attorney General of Georgia

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr

Georgia state officials asked a judge to bar operations of a medical device sterilization facility accused of exposing its surrounding area to harmful emissions.

Attorney General Chris Carr filed a complaint Monday in Newton County Superior Court on behalf of Gov. Brian Kemp and the Environmental Protection Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to temporarily stop Becton, Dickinson and Co. from operating its facility in Covington, Georgia.

“From Sept. 15, 2019 through Sept. 22, 2019, BD violated the Georgia Air Quality Act and the Rules for Air Quality Control when it negligently allowed the release of 54.5 pounds of ethylene oxide into the atmosphere, which upon further investigation has been determined to have been caused by a lack of diligence and prolonged operator error rather than an equipment malfunction,” Carr said in a statement.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2016 classified ethylene oxide as a carcinogen, meaning it has a high risk of causing cancer. The litigation claims that Becton, Dickinson failed to take the necessary precautions to prevent the overexposure of ethylene oxide emissions.

Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division officials found an emission control device was not closed properly on Sept. 23, which caused the 54.5 pounds of ethylene oxide to escape. Operations since have been suspended.

The state wants the court to keep the facility closed until technicians are retrained and an upgrade of the emissions devices is complete with “99 percent efficiency.”

Becton, Dickinson representatives said they could not comment on the case.

In August, another medical device sterilization company, Sterigenics, agreed to launch ethylene oxide emission reduction efforts after receiving backlash from residents and county and state officials. Becton, Dickinson also promised to do the same.

“Today’s action by the state of Georgia is a result of BD’s lack of response to these recent violations, which is in stark contrast to the response that Gov. Kemp and EPD have gotten from other similar medical commercial sterilizers in Georgia that have complied with EPD’s requests and are progressing in their efforts to reduce ethylene oxide emissions,” Carr said.

However, Sterigenics also faced severe criticism for its operations in Illinois. After being shuttered by officials, the company decided to cease operations at its Chicago-area facility last month.

The decision to close the Chicago location was made after Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s Illinois Environmental Protection Agency approved the company’s permit to install additional control measures on Sept. 20, The Center Square reported.

Georgia’s governor has vowed to protect residents and employees. 

“My top priority is the health and well-being of Georgia families. This measure is necessary to ensure transparency and prevent behavior that threatens the safety of [Becton, Dickinson] employees and the Covington community,” Kemp wrote on Twitter.

Staff Reporter

Nyamekye Daniel has been a journalist for three years. She was the managing editor for the South Florida Media Network and a staff writer for The Miami Times. Daniel's work has also appeared in the Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and The New York Times.