March 8, 2019
On Wednesday, March 6, 2019, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) and their partners, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) and the Kent County Health Department (KCHD), hosted a community meeting for concerned citizens residing or working in a Grand Rapids neighborhood. The neighborhood, Grand Valley University’s downtown campus, and several local businesses surround Viant Medical, Inc. (Viant), a medical device manufacturer using ethylene oxide, a known human carcinogen, to sterilize medical equipment.
Although Viant bought the company operations in 2015, medical device sterilization using ethylene oxide has been done at the Grand Rapids location for over 30 years. The primary concern from the use and emission of ethylene oxide are associated with a long-term/lifetime of breathing the chemical at specific levels. People that have long-term exposures have shown an increased occurrence of specific cancers, including breast cancer and blood cancers (including multiple myeloma, leukemia, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma).
The community meeting was held after air modeling and subsequent ambient (outdoor) air sampling showed levels of ethylene oxide of concern. These sample results indicated there may be an increased risk of cancer for people living for a long time in the area around Viant.
The meeting was livestreamed and was well attended by the community. A short presentation was done that gave an overview of the different agency’s roles in this on-going issue. The MDEQ spoke specifically on the background of the issue as well as the Phase I Sampling, violation notices Viant has received, and a discussion of another round of air sampling that will begin the week of March 18, 2019. MDHHS talked about the potential risk the community may have if they have a long-term exposure to the chemical. A fact sheet for ethylene oxide was provided and MDHHS staff encouraged the public to use this information to talk to their doctor about their concerns. KCHD laid the ground work for the Cancer Incidence Review which is in the works and when results are expected.
The most important part of the meeting were the questions asked by concerned citizens. The community is anxious for the Phase II air sampling to be completed because, according to staff, this additional information will be instrumental in determining next steps. Community members also asked staff questions on why the MDEQ allows Viant to continue to use ethylene oxide in the sterilization process. Viant has announced their plans to cease using ethylene oxide to sterilize equipment by the end of the year. At this time all agencies involved are working on collecting information that will be used in future decision making. The MDEQ talked openly about an enforcement process that will require Viant to enter into a legally binding agreement and potentially pay a fine.
According to Chris Ethridge, Field Operations Supervisor in MDEQ’s Air Quality Division and one of the meeting’s panel members, “The ethylene oxide issue at Viant is one of Air Quality Division’s top priorities. We understand the community’s health concerns and we will continue to work with our partners to get answers to the community as quickly as possible.”
If you would like to be added to the Viant Information Email List, please send an email to Jenifer Dixon, email@example.com. The most current information on Viant and the ethylene oxide issues associated with it can be found at www.michigan.gov/viant.
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