HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — After certain chemicals were discovered in the air and waterways of a Henrico community, county leaders held a public meeting to address environmental concerns from the residents.

A number of people gathered in the Varina Library to learn about the risks of the chemicals they may be drinking and breathing every day.

“For it to be just there, you can’t see it, you can’t do anything about it, and it might hurt your kids is terrifying,” said Gray Montrose, a Henrico resident in attendance.

One of the chemicals that was found was ethylene oxide (EtO) — a chemical used to clean medical equipment by Sterilization Services of Virginia, a company in the area. The chemical — which is being emitted into the air — may cause certain types of cancers. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), residents who live near the facility have a higher risk if they were exposed for 70 years.

“To have this potentially serious issue, that we’re still finding out how bad it is, be just down the street from hundreds of kids in my neighborhood was really concerning,” Montrose told 8News. 

At the meeting, officials also addressed concerns about per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the water supply. According to reports, PFAS were found in some wells in the White Oak Swamp area in 2021.

According to authorities, PFAS can cause reproduction issues and are also linked to an increased risk of cancer.

Director of Henrico County Public Utilities, Bentley Chan, answered questions from residents and addressed what action was being taken in light of the discoveries.

“We’ve set up an ongoing program to continue to test wells, and, in addition to that, we have installed five filter systems,” Chan said.

A representative of the EPA also took the opportunity to explain what the agency has been doing to tackle these issues. They said they will be proposing rules to strengthen current regulations for EtO commercial sterilizers later this year.

Montrose said it was comforting to see other members of her community making thoughtful inquiries.

“It’s really important to me that even if I don’t necessarily have all the information on the situation that I can trust that my neighbors are asking all those questions,” she said.