Homeowners living near a medical sterilizer in Cobb County have filed a lawsuit against the company that runs it, Sterigenics, in what their attorney described as the first of many such cases.
The lawsuit filed by Bridget and Andrew Kurt seeks damages for lost property value due to emissions of ethylene oxide, a toxic gas the company is legally authorized to use for the sterilization of medical equipment.
The plant’s emissions became the subject of public scrutiny and outrage last year in the wake of a federal report that flagged the area for increased cancer risk.
Since then, the sterilizer has closed and reopened amidst a swirl of legal complications, including two lawsuits filed by Sterigenics against Cobb County officials and tax assessors, who recently devalued over 5,000 residential properties in the area citing environmental “issues."
Eric Hertz, the lead attorney on the Kurts' case, said their claim is based on market value, not the lowered tax assessment.
“Quite frankly, your home is your biggest asset for most people,” Hertz said. “It’s really tragic in that respect.”
The lawsuit cites scientific, government and media reports, including reporting by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, in arguing that the company behaved negligently. Hertz said his law firm has many more potential plaintiffs and is prepared to file up to a thousand similar suits on behalf of property owners.
A spokesman for Sterigenics declined to comment on the Kurts' lawsuit. He pointed to a statement provided to the paper earlier this year saying the company was in full compliance with state and federal air regulations.
“The fact is that the Sterigenics facility is safe and not causing anyone harm," the statement said.
The plant is currently operating at full capacity as its lawsuit against the county over permitting makes its way through the courts. The lawsuit against the board of tax assessors, also pending, is separate.
In addition to representing the Kurts and potentially other homeowners, Hertz’s law firm is also suing Sterigenics on behalf of warehouse workers and their families who say dozens were sickened or died as a result of ethylene oxide exposure.
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Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC