City of Atlanta to join Cobb, Smyrna in air testing

The outside of the Sterigenics building is seen on Wednesday, July 24, 2019, in Smyrna. ELIJAH NOUVELAGE/SPECIAL TO THE AJC

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The outside of the Sterigenics building is seen on Wednesday, July 24, 2019, in Smyrna. ELIJAH NOUVELAGE/SPECIAL TO THE AJC

The city of Atlanta said Monday it plans to join with the governments of Cobb County and Smyrna to conduct air testing near the Sterigenics plant over concerns about emissions of a toxic gas.

City Councilman Dustin Hillis, whose district is near the Sterigenics plant in Smyrna, has introduced legislation to join the local governments to test for ethylene oxide, a carcinogen.

“As a health professional, resident, and representative of the area, it is very important to me that we partner with our neighbors in Cobb County and Smyrna to commission this air testing and monitoring,” Hillis said in a Monday morning news release announcing Atlanta’s plans. The City Council, which meets today, must vote to approve the agreement.

Earlier this month, Cobb and Smyrna approved funds to pay for testing by GHD Environmental and Consulting Inc. to determine the concentration of ethylene oxide in the area. The chemical is used by Sterigenics to sterilize products for health care companies at its Smyrna facility.

Public pressure also led the state Environmental Protection Division to announce Friday that it will start collecting air samples soon in Cobb and in Covington, east of Atlanta, near another sterilization plant that uses ethlyene oxide. A single prior state test indicated a baseline ambient concentration of the gas at rates higher than expected.

Concerns about emissions emerged this summer after a report by WebMD and Georgia Health News highlighted a federal study that found several census tracts in Georgia, including ones in Cobb and Fulton counties, had elevated cancer risks due to the gas.

Sterigenics has said it is in full compliance with state and federal emissions regulations and is in the process of upgrading its emissions controls. Sources of the gas also include petroleum refining and vehicle exhaust.  Its presence in the atmosphere has been found to be more pervasive than previously thought.

“The city wants to ensure that our communities have clean air,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said in the release. “While there is no evidence our residents have been impacted, we must do our due diligence to ensure the well-being of our families.”

The EPA will hold a community meeting today at the Cobb County Civic Center in Marietta.

From 5 to 6:45 p.m., local, state and federal health and environmental protection officials will hold an open house and answer questions one-on-one from residents. From 7 to 9 p.m., officials will hold a forum with presentations by health and environmental experts and overviews of recent government reports.

The civic center is at 548 S. Marietta Parkway SE in Marietta.