State environmental regulators can and do take action separately from the federal government.
In Illinois, the state closed a Sterigenics plant in Willowbrook after air testing showed alarming levels of the toxin. A follow up study by the Illinois Department of Public Health found higher rates of cancer among women and girls in surrounding neighborhoods, the Chicago Tribune reported.
In response to a request for clarification about the EPD’s authority to regulate ethylene oxide, Dunn said in a statement: “We believe the quickest, most effective way to get results is to work with these companies to reduce emissions voluntarily.”
“That sounds to me like a dodge,” said Kurt Ebersbach, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.
While federal regulators set the regulatory minimum, “States can always go above the federal floor,” Ebersbach said. “There’s absolutely nothing that prohibits that.”
Not only do the facilities’ permits include a provision allowing the state to unilaterally revoke or amend them, state law grants Dunn emergency powers that include closing the plants, Ebersbach said.
State Sen. Jen Jordan, D-Atlanta, who represents the district where Sterigenics is located, slammed the EPD for its response to the issue.
“Either EPD does not understand its role or doesn’t intend to fulfill it,” she said. “Inaction is not acceptable.”
When asked what she would do if the state fails to act, Jordan said, “whatever I need to do to protect my people.”
What does the law say?
Georgia law mirrors federal rules for medical sterilization facilities.
Those rules require a plant to control 99 percent of its ethylene oxide emissions.
It does not set a limit on total allowable emissions, or ambient concentration levels.