August 19, 2019 Marietta: Many area residents hold signs in opposition as Cobb officials and environmental regulators hold a town hall and community forum in the wake of reports that Cobb and Fulton have high levels of carcinogenic gas on Monday, August 19, 2019, in Marietta. A user and emitter of the gas, Sterigenics, which sterilizes medical equipment, operates in the area. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

Two Dem state lawmakers call for Sterigenics closure

Two Democratic state lawmakers who represent the area surrounding the Sterigenics plant in Cobb County called on Gov. Brian Kemp to shut down the sterilization facility until testing can prove it is not violating emissions regulations for ethylene oxide. 

State Rep. Erick Allen, D-Smyrna, and state Sen. Jen Jordan, D-Atlanta, said Kemp should follow the lead of Illinois which closed a Sterigenics facility near Chicago last year after concerns about emissions of ethylene oxide, a gas used to sterilize medical components. The compound has been deemed a carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 

Allen and Jordan’s comments came Monday night after a community meeting at the Cobb County Civic Center held by the EPA to address residents’ questions about emissions. A 2018 EPA assessment warned of potential increased long-term risk of cancer in census tracts near the Sterigenics facility in Smyrna and a similar facility by sterilizer BD Bard in Covington. 

“The governor has the authority and the power to do that, to ask them to cease operations while this investigation is going on,” Allen told reporters after the meeting. 

Cody Hall, a spokesman for Kemp, said the governor’s staffers attended Monday’s meeting. Kemp is scheduled to meet with representatives from Sterigenics and BD Bard on Tuesday. 

“Ultimately, our administration will do what it takes to protect our citizens from harmful emissions and ensure a healthy future for Georgia families,” he said. 

The EPA town hall included panels about the risk of ethylene oxide and the steps regulators are taking to curb emissions at the Sterigenics plant. They urged calm to the crowd of well over 1,000 inside the Cobb County Civic Center and said the 2018 report showed that more study of ethylene oxide emissions is needed. 

EPA officials said modeling with more recent emissions data show a lower risk than the 2018 assessment, which used 2014 data. 

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, and its presence in the atmosphere has been found to be more pervasive than previously thought. 

The state Environmental Protection Division entered into a consent decree this month with Sterigenics that requires new emissions controls and includes new environmental benchmarks. Sterigenics President Phil Macnabb told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution those fixes will cost about $2.5 million and take 12 to 24 weeks to complete. 

But the Cobb plant remains open while new emissions technologies are installed. 

The company declined to comment for this story.

In Illinois, state regulators shut down a similar plant. A proposed consent decree in Illinois would prohibit the plant from reopening until emissions controls are installed and testing shows the systems work. 

“If you don’t know what to do here it is,” Jordan said of the Illinois consent decree. “We have a road map for how this should play out here.”

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