Sterigenics to meet with community following concerns about ethylene oxide emissions

Representatives from an Illinois-based company will meet with Atlanta-area residents and community leaders on Tuesday following reports their Georgia facility emits potentially cancer-causing ethylene oxide (EO) gas.

Sterigenics’ Georgia facility is located between Atlanta and Smyrna, an area where the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identified potentially higher cancer risks. WebMD and Georgia Health News first reported the news, which spurred a series of community meetings to address the topic.

A second company – Beckton Dickinson (BD) in Covington – has prompted similar concerns. Both companies use EO to sterilize medical equipment, including surgical equipment and catheters.

“Both Sterigenics and BD are in compliance with current federal requirements for control of ethylene oxide emissions,” the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) said in a statement. “Both facilities conduct periodic testing, which is monitored by EPD.”

The emissions information is from the 2014 National Air Toxics Assessment (NATA), which the EPA completed and released in August 2018. In late 2016, EPA determined that the risk of long-term exposure to ethylene oxide is more significant than previously believed and updated the risk calculations, prompting concerns about the Sterigenics and BD locations.

Both “facilities are currently emitting significantly less ethylene oxide than assumed in the 2014 NATA,” the state EPD said. “EPA has announced that they intend to review the federal regulations to determine if additional controls are required.”

The location of Sterigenics poses a problem for Smyrna city leaders, as the facility sits near but outside of the city limits in an unincorporated area of Cobb County. However, city officials have expressed concerns and are assessing what action they can take.

“Since the state is responsible for environmental permits and monitoring, we have let them take the lead on this situation,” Cobb County spokesman Ross Cavitt said in an email. “As far as the county is concerned, they are operating in a properly zoned area with applicable business licenses and did not receive any tax breaks or incentives to locate at that location.”

Representatives for the state EPD and the federal EPA did not immediately respond to requests for comment regarding Sterigenics, which is no stranger to concerns about its EO emissions.

In June, Illinois lawmakers approved the nation’s most stringent EO emissions laws. The push came following an investigation and the closure of a Sterigenics facility in Willowbrook, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.

In a letter to residents of a neighborhood near its Georgia facility, Sterigenics President Philip Macnabb said the company is working with the state EPD on “additional voluntary enhancements that are consistent with changes being undertaken in other Sterigenics facilities” to limit EO emissions.

“As part of our commitment to ongoing improvement, we have consistently taken voluntary steps to reduce emissions of ethylene oxide (EO) from the facility resulting in a 90 percent reduction in EO emissions over the past five years,” Macnabb wrote.

“EO exists in the air all around us,” Macnabb added. “It is the product of natural sources, including plant decay and the human body’s normal metabolic process, as well as man-made sources, namely cars, diesel trucks, and construction materials.”

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