Sterigenics Promises to Reduce Pollution, but Some Seek Closure of Smyrna Plant
Image of Sterigenics logo used pursuant to fair use doctrine for educational purposes.
(APN) ATLANTA — Residents of Atlanta and neighboring Smyrna, Georgia, have been in an uproar about the recent revelations about the ongoing emissions of ethylene oxide from the Sterigenics plant.
Some protesters have been holding demonstrations and calling for the plant to be completely closed.
It appears that state and federal officials and industry leaders failed to inform local residents that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had become aware of an increased risk of developing cancer that residents face as a result of the emissions of ethylene oxide from the Sterigenics plant.
The Sterigenics plant produces sterilized medical devices, including many devices that are sterilized with ethylene oxide.
On July 19, 2019, WebMD and Georgia Health News reported on the failure to inform residents about the risks associated with ethylene oxide. The episode is reminiscent of the failure of government officials in the Flynt, Michigan, water crisis.
Ethylene oxide is a hazardous air pollutant regulated by myriad federal statutes and regulations. It is a flammable, colorless gas used in making a range of products, and used to sterilize medical equipment and other devices that cannot be sterilized by steam.
Ethylene oxide can have a sweet odor at high concentrations, but is odorless at lower concentrations.
The health risks to humans for exposure to ethylene oxide include irritation of the eyes, skin, nose, throat, and lungs; and harm to the brain and nervous system, causing effects such as headaches, memory loss, numbness, according to the EPA.
“Studies show that breathing air containing elevated ethylene oxide levels over many years increases the risk of some types of cancers, including cancers of the white blood cells (such as non-Hodgkin lymphoma, myeloma and lymphocytic leukemia); and breast cancer in females,” the EPA states.
In approximately 2006, the EPA began a study on the effects of ethylene oxide, to better understand its effects on human health.
In 2016, the EPA decided that ethylene oxide is more dangerous than previously known – and moved it from the list of substances that probable could cause cancer to those that definitely cause cancer.
Additionally, the National Air Toxics Assessment (NATA) has identified the chemical as a potential concern in several areas across the country, including some four U.S. Census tracts here in Metro Atlanta. EPA manages the NATA to carry out its responsibilities under the federal Clean Air Act.
On July 30, 2019, less than two weeks after the July 19 news reporting, Sterigenics submitted a permit modification to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division for installation of new, anti-pollution controls to vastly reduce ethylene oxide emissions at its Smyrna facility.
The Clean Air Act primarily delegates to U.S. States responsibility for complying with the Act’s mandates, including the issuance of permits to pollute.
In Illinois, faced with similar circumstances, state regulators made the decision to fully close a Sterigenics plant located in the village of Willowbrook, which was also producing medical equipment cleaned with ethylene oxide.
The State of Illinois also sued Sterigenics, in a case titled People v. Sterigenics, for which there is currently a Consent Order.
In Illinois, Sterigenics has also issued an updated permit application to improve technology used to reduce pollution of the chemical. However, the plant is actually closed in the meantime.
Here in Georgia, state and local legislators have been calling for additional testing of the air surrounding the plant, including State Sen. Jen Jordan (D-Atlanta), the City Council of Smyrna, and the City Council of Atlanta.
At the Monday, August 05, 2019 Full Council Meeting, the Atlanta City Council approved a resolution requesting the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) to conduct such testing.
The ATSDR is a federal public health agency housed within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
U.S. Reps. Hank Johnson (D-GA), David Scott (D-GA), and Lucy McBath (D-GA) wrote a letter to Georgia EPD raising concerns about the matter as well.
The EPA Division Four is hosting an open house on ethylene oxide on Monday, August 19, at the Cobb County Civic Center at 548 South Marietta Parkway SE, Marietta, Georgia 30060, from 5 p.m. to 6:45 p.m.; followed by a community meeting from 7 to 9 p.m.
(END / Copyright Atlanta Progressive News / 2019)