But the county says the company needs a new “high hazard industrial” certificate of occupancy, which requires stricter fire safety measures, in order to reopen permanently. In addition to being a carcinogen, ethylene oxide is highly flammable.
Currently, Sterigenics is operating pursuant to a consent order until the lawsuit is resolved.
The company’s lawyers argued this week that the requirement of a new certificate of occupancy is an excuse to shut it down, and that Cobb has no intention of granting such a certificate. A company spokesman declined to comment on the judge’s ruling.
“Since the early 1970s, nothing has changed and they have approved our occupancy and expansion there for decades,” the company’s attorney, Clay Massey, argued during a remote hearing Monday.
Elizabeth Monyak, representing Cobb County, said just because the facility should have been listed as high hazard industrial before, “That doesn’t keep us from doing it correctly in the future.”
Judge Ray described the legal issues at stake as “complicated” and deserving of a full hearing, and denied the county’s request to throw it out. He also appeared to issue a warning to Cobb, while saying he had not decided the case yet.
“It could be a major problem if the decisions that have been made have been made because of the political pressure, as opposed to legitimate regulatory interest,” Ray said. The judge also pushed back on the county’s interpretation of the local law governing permits.
A spokesman for Cobb said the county would not comment on the judge’s decision.
“I sincerely hope that the county is looking at the charges of ambiguity in our codes so that companies like Sterigenics can be prevented from rewriting rules to best suit their business practices, even when those practices potentially go against public safety,” said Janet Rau, who heads the grassroots group Stop Sterigenics and lives close to the plant.
Sterigenics is involved in several other, separate lawsuits. The company is suing the county’s board of tax assessors for lowering home values around the plant. Homeowners have also filed suit against the company over the reduction in their property values.
Sterigenics has been sued by dozens of workers and their families who allege they were sickened and several people died due to their exposure to ethylene oxide at a distribution center linked to the facility.