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Nearly 200 cancer patients launch lawsuits over ethylene oxide exposure

By: Hayley Mason, CBS46

SMYRNA, Ga. (CBS46) -- Nearly 200 residents in the cities of Covington and Smyrna say they have been diagnosed with cancer after decades of being exposed to ethylene oxide(EtO) that’s been emitted from the BD Bard plant in Covington and the Sterigenics plant in Smyrna. They’re actively filling lawsuits against the respective companies.

Darren Penn is one of many attorneys representing with clients in the effort. His team currently has 120 clients who are filing suit against BD Bard.

“They’ve continued to use ethelyne oxide at that facility right up until today,” Penn said in a virtual press conference Tuesday morning. “They are using it was we speak, and they are releasing emissions into the atmosphere.”

One of Penn’s clients, Dr. Lisa Miller, is a pediatrician who works a mile away from the Bard facility in Covington. She has lived about three miles away for more than 15 years.

“She has spent an incredible amount of time in close proximity to the Bard facility, and her diagnosis as of July of 2020 is breast cancer,” Penn said. “She is 58 years old and is going to do everything in her power to defeat this and to come back stronger than ever,” he explained as he detailed some of his client’s cancer stories and the decades they’ve spent living and working near the plant that has emitted EtO.

Attorneys say the various patients have either myeloma, lymphoma, or leukemia.

“In all the filed cases we are expecting monetary damages for those individuals that have been effected, their medical bills,” said attorney Cale Conley.

BD Bard’s spokesperson said the company does not comment on pending litigation but provided data and charts to CBS46 that the company believes shows proof of lower EtO levels. “The data also show that average levels across the greater Atlanta area are about the same in areas where there are EtO sterilization facilities and areas where there are not EtO sterilization facilities,” the statement said in part. “The data suggests that those who live in communities with sterilization facilities are exposed to similar amounts of EtO as those who do not live near the facilities because of other sources of EtO, including naturally occurring sources.”

The tables to show that Fulton has higher levels, not Cobb or Covington.

Sterigenics sent a statement outright dismissing the client’s claims. “Sterigenics empathizes with anyone battling cancer, but our Atlanta facility’s safe operations are not responsible for causing the illnesses alleged in these lawsuits. We intend to vigorously defend against the plaintiffs’ unfounded claims,” a company spokesperson wrote to CBS46.

Rep. Erick Allen (D-Smyrna), has been pushing legislation to mandate more transparent and frequent around-the-clock air studies at the plants.

“It was very difficult this past session to get some things passed, to even have the discussion,” Allen said. “I even put forth a study group to look at the impact of ethylene oxide in communities in Georgia and it went nowhere. So, I would hope that next year we use that as a time to really take into consideration the threat that ethylene oxide really poses in our communities,” he continued.

More lawsuits are being filed this week. Each is its own individual case. Attorneys reiterated that the cases are not part of a class action suit.





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