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Lawmakers Grill State Regulators, Sterigenics President At Hearing Over Ethylene Oxide

The Sterigenics plant in Cobb County remains closed for upgrades. This new EPA rule applies to facilities that manufacture ethylene oxide.
The Sterigenics plant in Cobb County remains closed for upgrades. This new EPA rule applies to facilities that manufacture ethylene oxide.
Credit Courtesy of Georgia Health News
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Cobb and Fulton County lawmakers asked state regulators Thursday whether residents should have been told sooner about elevated cancer risks near medical sterilization facilities.

Top officials at the Georgia Environmental Protection Division said when they learned about census tracts with elevated cancer risks, they asked the facilities for updated data on ethylene oxide emissions but did not inform the public.

“If we had to do this over again, we would have notified the public much sooner than we did,” said Karen Hays, chief of the Air Protection Branch.

That answer didn’t satisfy state Sen. Jen Jordan.

“What I would have liked to have heard was, if she had it to do over again, she would have immediately started with independent air testing; She would have gotten the public involved,” Jordan said.  “It seems more of a ‘we feel bad that we got caught not telling you,’ versus we feel bad that we didn’t do the right thing.”

The Sterigenics plant in Cobb County remains closed for upgrades.

Jordan thinks it should move to a less populated area.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate necessarily for a facility like this to be operating in a residential area where there are schools and churches and so many people that live around that area.”

The president of Sterigenics, Phil Macnabb, told the assembled lawmakers that his company’s plant is safe. He also said they’ve been working to reduce ethylene oxide emissions since they were approached by the state.

“I feel like there’s this narrative that’s been built around Sterigenics as being not a great actor,” Macnabb said. “I put forth the actions that the company has taken, we worked with the EPD starting last year on what can we do before regulations come to improve the facility.”

The city of Covington, meanwhile, has called for the sterilization plant there to stop operating. BD owns that plant.