Sterigenics, the company embroiled in controversial over release of possibly cancer-causing gas at a Smyrna facility, says it plans to have new emission control equipment installed by the first week of October. That’s ahead of an earlier estimated timeframe and comes because, the company says, it is “suspending” use of the gas during construction.
The company, which uses the ethylene oxide gas to sterilize medical equipment, is working under an agreement with the state Environmental Protection Division to install gear to reduce emissions, including by better sealing openings in the building. That agreement, announced in early August, originally came with a construction estimate of three to eight months.
“The construction is proceeding ahead of schedule,” Sterigenics said in a press release. “We have determined that suspending sterilization operations, and the use of EO [ethylene oxide] in those operations, throughout the duration of the work will enable us to further accelerate the installation of these enhancements and that doing so is the most efficient path to meeting the requests of all stakeholders.”
Sterigenics previously said it already captures “99.9%” of all ethylene oxide emissions from the facility at 2971 Olympic Industrial Drive in Smyrna.
Controversy about Sterigenics followed a recent report from WebMD and Georgia Health News, which revealed federal estimates of elevated cancer risks from emissions of the invisible, odorless gas around the facility, which is less than a mile from the Buckhead border. Actual emission levels are currently unknown, but air quality testing – commissioned by Cobb County and the cities of Smyrna and Atlanta – is underway, with results expected later in September.
However, there is also concern about the effects of decades of past emissions from the facility, which has operated since 1972. State Sen. Jen Jordan (D-Atlanta) previously said she will call for a state investigation to see whether there are any “cancer clusters” around the facility.
Also controversial was the recent revelation that about six pounds of ethylene oxide leaked from a drum at the facility in July, an incident that Sterigenics did not publicly announce. Sterigenics previously said the amount of the leak was below state reporting requirements. The EPD is investigating the incident said there is no update on the status of that probe.
The local concern has come three years after the federal Environmental Protection Agency deemed ethylene oxide to be a more significant cancer risk in emissions from such facilities than previously estimated. And Sterigenics is embroiled in controversy over another facility in Illinois, which was shuttered earlier this year by the state following detection of high ethylene oxide emissions there. More than 30 Illinois residents are now suing Sterigenics, alleging cancer and cover-ups, while the company asserts it followed the rules and did not hide any information.
Update: This story has been updated with comment from the state Environmental Protection Division.