State investigating air pollution in southwest Grand Rapids | Michigan Radio
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State investigating air pollution in southwest Grand Rapids

Mar 7, 2019

State and local officials updated some Grand Rapids residents about possible air pollution in the southwest area of the city on Wednesday night.

The company Viant Medical uses a chemical called ethylene oxide to sterilize medical equipment.

DEQ officials say the levels found in air samples taken in late November were around 150 times federal limits for ethylene oxide, but the agency says the concern is not acute – or immediately harmful.

Jim Haywood, a meteorologist with the Department of Environmental Quality, says there is little short-term risk associated with ethylene oxide.

“The problem seems to be long term, chronic, that it is a carcinogen. So over a period of time, it could be a cancer risk,” Haywood says.

The EPA classified ethylene oxide as a human carcinogen in 2016. As the agency explains:

Evidence in humans indicates that long-term exposure to ethylene oxide increases the risk of cancers of the white blood cells, including non-Hodgkin['s] lymphoma, myeloma, and lymphocytic leukemia. Studies also show that long-term exposure to ethylene oxide increases the risk of breast cancer in females.

The Kent County Health Department and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services are currently researching federal cancer data to see if there are any links to increases in cancer incidents in the area surrounding the Viant facility. 

Zachary Kortz, a resident who lives near the Viant facility in Grand Rapids, says he has lingering questions after the meeting.

“The prospect of health risks associated with creating a family in the area,” Kortz says.

John Truscott, a spokesman for Viant, says the company plans to stop using the chemical and to cease their sterilization practices altogether by the end of 2019.

Truscott says since 2017, Viant has been cited four times by the DEQ for violating federal and state standards. He says some of the violations are for turning in test results late or not in the proper format.

The state will begin collecting air samples in the neighborhoods surrounding the facility later this month.

The DEQ says it's putting together a comprehensive enforcement plan to ensure Viant meets all regulatory standards.