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 last year. (Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com)

Lawmakers introduce dueling ethylene oxide bills

Competing bills in the state Legislature show the degree to which ethylene oxide regulation has become a potent political issue as voters ramp up pressure on state and local officials.

Residents in Newton and Cobb counties have formed local advocacy groups since a federal report highlighted potential increased cancer risks around plants that are legally permitted to use the gas for medical device sterilization.

Recently, Republicans introduced mirror bills in the House and Senate that would require facilities using ethylene oxide to report any leak to state regulators, regardless of the quantity released.

Currently, they must only report releases of 10 pounds or greater.

The proposal is identical to one submitted earlier by Democrats, except for one difference: The Democrats’ bill would also require the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to post notification of any leak to its website.

Janet Rau, president of Stop Sterigenics Georgia, expressed hope that the “clone bills” would have a higher chance of passing with the support of Governor Brian Kemp and the majority party, but she expressed concern that “the language has shifted.”

Sterigenics is a medical device sterilizer operating in Cobb County, near Smyrna.

“That public accountability piece to us is so critical,” she said. Without that provision, “We’ll be doing weekly open records requests to the EPD for the rest of our lives.”

“We’ll do it, but it’s unreasonable,” Rau added.

State Sen. Brian Strickland, who sponsored SB426 which doesn’t have the public notification requirement, said his top priority is keeping Georgians safe.

The bill “ensures greater accountability and transparency in medical sterilization facilities using ethylene oxide by providing Georgia EPD with the appropriate level of statutory oversight of these operations,” Strickland said in a statement. The McDonough Republican often introduces bills on the governor’s behalf.

State Rep. Erick Allen, D-Smyrna, sponsored HB774, which requires public notification of ethylene oxide leaks.

Allen said he appreciates the governor working with lawmakers on the issue, but that the bill backed by Kemp was “watered down.”

“I could care less who gets the credit,” he wrote in a text message. “I just want the right thing to be done and I cannot support the Governor’s bills unless transparency is added back in.”

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