By Maggie Lee
Georgia officials are planning a meeting with a company called Sterilization Services of Georgia. The state says the Fulton Industrial-area company has shown interest in expanding its business of sterilizing medical and surgical products. But the company uses tons of ethylene oxide, the same toxic gas that’s got people in Smyrna and other places demanding the shutdown of similar facilities.
Smyrna has been ground zero in Georgia for public anger over the emission of ethylene oxide into the air. That gas is used to sterilize medical instruments and make other chemicals, but it causes cancer. The backlash in Smyrna has swelled since a July report by Georgia Health News and Web MD pointed out that the feds have revised their opinions on what’s called EtO. It’s been reclassified as a definite cause of cancer — but both state and federal environmental officials have been quiet about the new finding.
Fulton County Commission Chairman Robb Pitts, speaking at a regular commission meeting on Wednesday, said he and others had had a briefing earlier this month from the state Environmental Protection Division and the federal Environmental Protection Agency about the chemical, the Sterigenics facility in Smyrna, and the Fulton Industrial Sterilization Services of Georgia facility. The county commission did not take any action Wednesday, but Pitts and others have attended public meetings and briefings. As have concerned public officials from city halls all the way to members of the U.S. Congress.
Sterilization Services of Georgia is in unincorporated Fulton County near the corner of Fulton Industrial Boulevard and Boat Rock Boulevard, according to state records.
And that Fulton Industrial area does not show up as an area of elevated cancer risk. Areas around the Smyra facility and a facility in Covington do show up as areas of elevated cancer risk, per a federal air toxics map.
But the state EPD is going to meet with Sterilization Services of Georgia next week, according to the office of Gov. Brian Kemp. Agenda items include a discussion of the company’s expressed interest in expanding, additional emission controls, and modelling emissions. (That is, figuring out the best way to measure ethylene oxide concentrations around a facility.)
According to Georgia records, the leaders of Sterilization Services of Georgia are in Illinois, at the same address as a company called Altair Corporation. A message left with Altair on Thursday afternoon was not immediately returned.
Sterilization Services of Georgia is in compliance with its 2006 air pollution permit, according to state records; and it passed an unannounced inspection in January 2018.
In 2018, the Fulton Industrial company used 45 tons of ethylene oxide, compared to Sterigenics’ 212 tons, again, according to the governor’s office.
But Sterilization Services was the subject of a 2015 complaint by the state. Apparently due to a scrubber malfunction, a compartment containing ethylene oxide had to be released into the atmosphere — and the company did not notify the state within 15 minutes as required by law. According to the state report, the person contacted at the plant said he was unaware of that notification law.
The Georgia EPD announced this month that it was going to start collecting air samples around Sterigenics in Smyrna and around a similar company in Covington called BD. The state is also collecting air samples at a monitoring station in south DeKalb, in an effort to get a baseline understanding of ethylene oxide in the air generally.
Georgia EPD page on Sterilization Services of Georgia