Verona residents angry about BCP emissions

Saturday, December 18, 2021
A Verona community member asks State Rep. Mitch Boggs, R-LaRussell, what he intends to do about potentially hazardous chemicals being emitted from BCP outside Verona. Boggs said his constituents are clear that they do not want to see more regulations on industry, but said the concerns from the community are being heard. Mike Gervais/mgnews@monett-times.com

Community raises concerns with EPA over ethylene oxide

Verona community members are raising questions about the Balchem BCP facility located just outside of town and the emissions it’s plant pumps into the air.

Representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hosted a town hall meeting in the Verona School Gym on Dec. 9 to discuss its work with BCP and the agency’s role in monitoring BCP and what efforts are being made to ensure Verona is safe.

Residents, including Mayor Joseph Heck, were clear that they want more transparency from the EPA and more research into what the impacts of BCP emissions are.

Specifically, the EPA has identified Ethylene Oxide as a potentially harmful emission and has reported that BCP is well within the federal and state regulations regarding how much of the chemical can be released from the facility.

BCP in Verona manufactures food, feed-grade preservatives that use ethylene oxide. The facility also repackages ethylene oxide and sells it to other companies that use the chemical. Amy Algoe-Eakin, who oversees air quality issues from the EPA’s Kansas City office said ethylene oxide emissions occur at various locations within the BCP Verona plant and emissions may occur while the chemical is being unloaded from rail cars, during manufacturing, repackaging and during wastewater treatment.

Algoe-Eakin said BCP, due to its small size, is not required by the state or federal government to report on its emissions. However, due to concerns raised about ethylene oxide, it has volunteered to work with the EPA and report its emissions.

Interest in those emissions was rekindled recently when watchdog group ProPublica modeled EPA data from 2014 through 2018 and identified more than 1,000 toxic hot spots across the country affected by various air emissions.

In its report, ProPublica placed the population of 2,979 people around the town of Verona at its “highest risk” category and stated the BCP facility in Verona “is estimated to increase the excess cancer risk for people living within five miles by an average of 1 in 30,000. Over the five years ProPublica analyzed, the excess risk here has ranged from as low as 1 in 830 to as high as 1 in 320. In 2018, the risk was 1 in 830.”

ProPublica attributed “100 percent” of the additional cancer risk in the Verona area to the BCP plant.

During the town hall meeting, Verona residents made it clear they were unhappy with the state of emissions from BCP and with the EPA.

“We know it’s here,” Mayor Heck said of the ethylene oxide. “We know it’s dangerous and we want answers.

Heck demanded the EPA begin a 90-day “fence-line” monitoring program to find out exactly how much ethylene oxide is escaping from the facility. Currently, BCP conducts its own monitoring and reports to the EPA, and reported a steep decline in emissions from 2018 through 2020.

However, Verona residents said that in light of the ProPublica report, the company should not be trusted to “self police,” Verona City Council member Amy Spears said.

In a letter to Missouri Department of Health and Human Services Bureau of Environmental Epidemiology Chief Jeff Wenzel dated Dec. 10, Heck requested a survey on Verona residents to determine the effects of long-term exposure to ethylene oxide.

“While cancer is of the highest concern, we understand that there may be other ailments that are triggered or caused by exposure to EtO, and knowing if the average rate for those diseases is higher, lower, or similar to other areas is another way to reassure our community that they are safe in their homes, or empower them to make the decision necessary to the health and well-being of their homes and families,” the letter states.

“Verona has had unfortunate exposure in the media,” the letter states. “Questions by potential home buyers have come into the city office regarding the safety of our community. As a community hoping to grow, and attract business, a study of this nature will allow us to move forward confidently.”

During the meeting, Heck also asked the EPA several times what an acceptable level of ethylene oxide is.

Algoe-Eakin said she did not know offhand, but assured the community that BCP’s emissions are below federal and state standards.

David Davidson of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, the agency that enforces environmental regulations in the state, said he does not know the risk levels of ethylene oxide, but pointed out that Missouri is a “no stricter” state that does not implement environmental regulations stricter than those mandated by the federal government.

“So we are people in a fish bowl and you guys are using us as test monkeys,” Heck said.

State Rep. Mitch Boggs, R-LaRussell, who represents Verona residents was on hand at the meeting. When asked what he intended to do with the information regarding BCP, he explained to the audience that during his campaign for election, constituents were clear that they did not want more regulation on industry.

Summing up the discussion, he told the EPA representatives that it is clear that Verona residents don’t trust BCP to conduct its own emissions reporting.

“Difficult as the meeting was,” Heck said, “There are many questions left unanswered.” He said he hopes the EPA will begin conducting its own monitoring efforts and the Department of Health and Human Services will conduct a study to determine the health effects of exposure to ethylene oxide so the community can get the answers it is seeking.

Heck also penned a letter to State Sen. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, requesting seeking action.

“There is a need to have specific, detailed and ongoing air quality testing around the BCP Plant located in our town,” Heck said. “This letter is a request that you take any action your political office offers or allows to encourage the EPA, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources or any other governmental agency to begin immediate air quality testing around the BCP Plant here in Verona.

“We are a small town, and we have very little political power, but we are still citizens of this great state, and we need any help you can provide to our citizens.”

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