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More legislative attention turning to ethylene oxide

Hands holding a tube with a stent in it

Ethylene oxide is used to sterilize medical equipment, like stents.

Ethylene oxide is used to sterilize medical equipment, like stents. Credit: Lenore Edman / CC BY 2.0


By Maggie Lee

The Cobb state representative who’s filed two bills to tighten oversight of ethylene oxide emissions plans more in the coming days.

Smyrna Democratic state Rep. Erick Allen said he will soon file bills that would require more air monitoring and testing around around plants like the Sterigenics facility in his district and the Sterilization Systems of Georgia facility near Fulton Industrial.

Both plants use ethylene oxide to sterilize medical equipment, but that gas also causes cancer.

One of Allen’s bills would require that such plants monitor what comes out of their exhaust stacks. Another would require ongoing testing at facility fence lines, to get an idea about the ambient amount of these gases over time.

“We’re working to make sure that if these facilities are allowed to operate, they do it as safely as possible,” Allen said.

His House Bill 774 would require companies to report any accidental emission of ethylene oxide to the state within 24 hours, and would require the state to post that report online. His House Resolution 895 would set up a state House-Senate study committee to look at the risks of ethylene oxide, the state of current law, and propose any changes.

It’s so early in the state Legislative session that the committee that would hear his bills hasn’t met yet.

State Rep. Roger Bruce, D-Atlanta, was among the first to sign Allen’s first two bills, and he plans to sign the next two as well.

Bruce’s constituents include the residents of buildings along Boat Rock Road near Fulton Industrial. According to state documents obtained by Georgia Health News, a state model shows elevated concentrations of ethylene oxide in the air there.

A company hired by Fulton County and other local governments to test the air in several places did not sound the alarm when it presented to the Fulton County Commission in December. Georgia Health News subsequently reported that the testing company is also now working for the American Chemistry Council, an industry group.

“One of the things that needs to be done is we need to get the study done by an independent group,” Bruce said.

Sterilization Services of Georgia has added more pollution controls this month called “back vents,” under an agreement with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.

The SSG facility is much smaller than Sterigenics in Smyrna. SSG used about 45 tons of the toxic gas last year, to Sterigenics’ roughly 212 tons.

State Sen. Jen Jordan, D-Smynra, and other area residents have complained in court that the EPD rushed into an agreement to let Sterigenics keep operating.

The EPD knew about the elevated cancer risk from ethylene oxide as early as 2016, but did not make any public announcement about it. Jordan brought up that point as a panelist at a Georgia First Amendment Foundation event last week.

“I think shows a real problem in terms of our state government transparency, and folks that work for us as a body politic, understanding exactly what their jobs are,” Jordan said.

Maggie Lee

Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008.


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