GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — State environmental officials are tapping the Grand Rapids community for input before fining Viant Medical $110,000 for polluting the air with a known carcinogen.
Viant, located at 520 Watson Street SW, uses carcinogenic ethylene oxide to sterilize medical equipment — something that’s been done at the factory since the mid-1980s, state officials said.
Initial emissions tests by the state showed the pollution’s impact stretching eight blocks west from the plant, across the Grand River to the east and about seven blocks north and south. It covered Grand Valley State University’s Pew campus, but GVSU said February tests by an independent company it hired showed very low levels of pollution.
In January, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality said the West Side neighborhood near Viant had the highest risk for cancer caused by air pollution in the state.
In July, the state health department said it didn’t find a significant increase in cancer among people leaving nearby but cautioned that it’s possible that people have left the area.
The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy said its air quality division found the main source of ethylene oxide coming from Viant was “fugitive emissions” escaping through ground-level vents and doorways. State air quality officials issued several notices to Viant for violating its air permit and not conducting stack testing in a timely manner.
The state says Viant agreed to a consent order setting up a compliance program “due to the nature of the violations and the possible health effects to the nearby community.” Under the consent order, Viant would be required to fix all violations, test the air surrounding the facility monthly, stop all sterilization work at the facility by Dec. 31 and stop using ethylene oxide by Jan. 31. If Viant doesn’t pay the fine and take the outlined actions, it could face additional penalties.
The state says Viant has been testing the air monthly since July and will continue to do so through February 2020 under the order. The state is also conducting monthly air tests at Viant.
Viant also notified neighbors in March that it would stop sterilization operations at the facility sometime this year.
The state is seeking public comments on the case through Oct. 25 before making a final decision on the order. Those interested in weighing in on Viant’s consent order can submit a comment via email or attend the Oct. 23 public hearing at GVSU’s L.V. Eberhard Center in Grand Rapids. The hearing starts at 7:30 p.m. after a 5:30 p.m. open house and 6 p.m. informational session.