Stop Sterigenics Georgia President Janet Rau explains why the group is hoping to get the Atlanta plant shutdown. Stop Sterigenics Georgia is an organization that is concerned about the Ethylene Oxide pollution that the Sterigenics plant is producing in the area. (Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com)

Protesters continue call for closure of Sterigenics plant

About 20 people protested Thursday a half-mile from the controversial Sterigenics plant near Smyrna, as residents continue to call for closure of the Cobb County facility that uses toxic gas to sterilize medical equipment.

The plant has been mired in controversy since a report by WebMD and Georgia Health News warned of a heightened risk of cancer for the surrounding community due to long-term exposure to ethylene oxide, which the company uses in its sterilization process.

The residents, who are members of the Stop Sterigenics Georgia, are also critical of Gov. Brian Kemp for his refusal to close the plant.

Kobi Oppong, a Vinings resident, said he and others are united in their demands. Oppong, who was joined at the protest by his wife and children, said his daughter’s school, Benjamin Preparatory School, has stopped outdoor recess as a precaution.

RELATEDFear, doubt linger over toxic emissions, as regulatory battle rages

“I feel like the governor has been very nonchalant about the whole thing,” he said. “We need something done right now.”

Oppong said there also are concerns that property values in the area could be damaged due to the publicity surrounding ethylene oxide emissions from the facility.

08/29/2019 -- Smyrna, Georgia -- Jenni Shover of Smyrna (center) holds a sign during a protest against a Cobb County Sterigenics plant at the intersection of Atlanta Road and Plant Atkinson Road, Thursday, August 29, 2019. (Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com)
Photo: Alyssa Pointer

Jenni Shover has lived and worked in the area for 19 years. An avid gardener, Shover said she’s now reduced the amount of time she spends outside.

Shover said she hopes the political and business leaders will develop a sense of urgency to address concerns.

RELATEDResidents demand feds, state curb levels of deadly gas from Cobb plant

Thursday’s protest was held two days after Georgia environmental regulators visited the Sterigenics plant to investigate an ethylene oxide leak that forced an evacuation of the facility on July 31. The unannounced visit happened hours after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked state officials whether Sterigenics reported the leak, and sought comment from them about the evacuation.

08/29/2019 -- Smyrna, Georgia -- Robin Cubbage of Smyrna gives a thumbs-up to a passer-by during a protest against a Cobb County Sterigenics plant at the intersection of Atlanta Road and Plant Atkinson Road, Thursday, August 29, 2019. (Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com)
Photo: Alyssa Pointer

Sterigenics told the AJC that the leak was detected by sensors inside the plant and was determined to be below the 10-pound reporting threshold.

RELATEDExplosion, gas leak raise fresh safety concerns at Sterigenics plant

For Barry Goppman, attending the protests and community meetings has been personal.

The Smyrna resident was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia in 2017. It’s a form of cancer that starts in the bone marrow and migrates to the blood.

Goppman said the company could explore non-toxic gases that can be used to sterilize medical equipment. When asked if concerns over ethylene oxide have changed his lifestyle, Goppman said he’s already limited in the amount of exercise he can perform without getting tired.

“I’m already damaged,” he said. “I can’t be undamaged.”


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