GR plant stopping work blamed for air pollution

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A medical plant on Grand Rapids’ West Side says it will shut down the operations blamed for causing what the state says is Michigan’s highest risk of cancer caused by air pollution.

“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” Belma Alic, who lives in apartments down the street from the plant, said. “I think it’s a little late and it should have happened a long time ago. Cancer is not a little thing. So it’s a step in the right direction. Hopefully it happens sooner rather than later.”

In a letter (PDF) to neighbors, Viant Medical said it will stop sterilization operations at its facility on Watson Street SW near Lexington Avenue later this year, though an exact date has not yet been set.

“They (Viant) have to notify customers. You can’t just walk away. There are contracts and things in place,” John Truscott, a spokesperson for the Massachusetts-based company, explained over the phone Tuesday.

Viant said the sterilization work isn’t central to its business; only about 12 of its 450 workers in Grand Rapids work at that facility.

At the core of the air quality concern is emissions of ethylene oxide, a known carcinogen, which is used to sterilize certain medical equipment. That chemical has been used at the plant since the mid-1980s; Viant bought it in 2015.

“It’s definitely scary to think that you could live somewhere so close that could be causing things like that,” Alic, the neighbor, said.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality says Viant is the biggest source of ethylene oxide emissions in the state and that it has twice been notified of violations linked to the emissions at the Watson plant.

In its letter, Viant said it told the DEQ about the problem that led to the first violation — a faulty seal — and that since then, it has “worked closely with the MDEQ to test and monitor air quality at the plant.” It argued the November testing that led to the second violation didn’t take into account outside factors in accordance with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency best practices.

The DEQ says there is no short-term threat and that the cancer risk is associated with a lifetime of exposure. State officials previously told 24 Hour News 8 that people who live near the plant don’t need to do anything different to try to limit exposure, noting they simply wanted neighbors to be aware of the situation.

A community meeting about the situation is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday at the Grand Valley State University Eberhard Center on W. Fulton Street. Environmental and health officials will be there. Viant said it was not invited.

—24 Hour News 8’s Heather Walker contributed to this report.

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