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On Your Side Investigation: EPA leaders host meeting in Verona, Mo. to discuss cancer-causing emissions from the plant

Published: Dec. 13, 2021 at 8:53 PM CST
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VERONA, Mo. (KY3) -It was only three weeks ago when we told you people in a small Ozarks town might have a greater risk of cancer linked to a chemical plant.

The Cancer-Causing Industrial Air Pollution map was done by ProPublica, a nonprofit journalism group. It took data from the Environmental Protection Agency and found about 20 hot spots in the United States. One of them is in the Ozarks. BCP Ingredients, a chemical plant, emits ethylene oxide. According to this data, residents living near the plant have a cancer risk that is 27 times the EPA’s acceptable risk.

A lot has happened since that On Your Side Investigation. Following our report, federal workers with the Environmental Protection Agency visited Verona for a town hall meeting.

“I’m totally embarrassed. And so mad. Of all the friends and family in this little community that has died,” said Sue Downs.

In the Verona High School gym, not just toxins, but the tension was in the air.

“I’d walk a mile in your shoes, but would you walk a day in mine?” asked Mayor Joseph Heck to the EPA workers.

Amy Algoe-Eakin, a scientist with the EPA, gave a presentation and took questions.

“Air pollution is very difficult to explain,” said Algoe-Eakin. “We are trying to get better at it. Be more plain English.”

The takeaway? EPA leaders say BCP Ingredients officials are working to lower their ethylene oxide emissions. There’s a new leak detection and repair program.

“They had around 700 different types of points that they needed to evaluate and survey. That’s an important program to reduce any type of ethylene oxide that’s coming from their chemical plant operations. We are also working to schedule a test of air pollution control device,” said Algoe-Eakin.

She says BCP leaders are being cooperative.

“BCP has been responsive to all of our requests and our desires to have evidence to validate all of the emission reductions that they are claiming,” said Algoe-Eakin.

ProPublica points out, ‘This data cannot be used to tie individual cancer cases to emissions from specific industrial facilities.’

BCP actions are voluntary, not mandatory.

“They don’t emit a large enough quantity of ethylene oxide that would require a specific federal regulation for hazardous air pollutants to be followed. Air pollution and hazardous air pollutions are technology-based standards. We look for them to control their emissions through technology. And so we are working voluntarily to implement measures that larger-scale sources are required to do for federal regulation,” said Algoe-Eakin.

“Unacceptable, unacceptable is all I can say,” said Downs.

Jerry Arnold noticed what many did. BCP Ingredients did not have a presence at this meeting.

“They should have been here. Should have had someone here and representing them. We want them to be a good neighbor. Take the citizens’ health and lives into consideration,” said Arnold.

BCP Ingredients declined our request for an on-camera interview, but sent us this statement:

Nothing is more important than the health and safety of our Verona employees, as well as their families, neighbors in the community, and the environment. Our facility is in full compliance with both federal and state regulations. Additionally, we have strict protocols in place to ensure that we’re safely manufacturing, storing, and transporting ethylene oxide which is used to sterilize medical and surgical equipment for life-saving surgeries and medical procedures.

EPA leaders say they’ll return to Verona once they have an update on emissions.

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