State Rep. David Dreyer, D-Atlanta, speaks at the State Capitol in March. Last week, Dreyer and four colleagues sent a letter to Sterilization Services of Georgia requesting the company halt operations until it could install new emissions controls. EMILY HANEY / AJC
Photo: Emily Haney
Photo: Emily Haney

Lawmakers want Fulton medical sterilization company to halt operations

Five members of the Georgia House of Representatives want a south Fulton County sterilization facility to suspend its operations until it can install new emissions controls to contain ethylene oxide, a toxic gas the plant legally uses to decontaminate medical equipment.

The demand of Sterilization Services of Georgia comes amid heightened scrutiny of ethylene oxide. In 2016, the gas was labeled a carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Facilities near Smyrna and in Covington that use the gas have recently agreed to temporarily close to improve their environmental systems in the face of mounting pressure from residents.

In an Oct. 28 letter to Sterilization Services, the lawmakers, all Democrats, acknowledged efforts by the company to upgrade its systems, but said, “We believe people’s lives are at risk.”

“Children and adults are currently breathing carcinogenic ethylene oxide emissions, and that is not acceptable,” said the Oct. 28 letter signed by state Reps. David Dreyer, Roger Bruce, William Boddie, Debra Bazemore and Derrick Jackson.

A message left for Sterilization Services was not immediately returned. The plant is near Fulton Industrial Boulevard west of I-285.

The letter was dated the same day that the state of Georgia and Becton Dickinson in Covington agreed to a consent order that requires the company to temporarily suspend operations and install new systems that will curtail “fugitive” emissions, or emissions that currently do not go through the plant’s pollution controls.

In September, after being contacted by the state Environmental Protection Division, Sterilization Services applied for a new permit to upgrade its emissions systems. That application is pending. The proposed improvements include new controls on a part of the sterilization chamber known as the “back vent.”

Sterigenics, the facility near Smyrna, and BD currently have back vent controls, but Sterilization Services does not. Back vent controls are not required under federal code.

BD and Sterigenics also agreed to install “negative pressure” systems throughout their facilities, something Dreyer said in an interview needs to be required of Sterilization Services. Dreyer said Sterilization Services has fewer public protections than BD or Sterigenics, yet the company is still operating.

“These are our constituents,” Dreyer said. “They have every right to breathe clean air like everyone else in the state.”

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