FILE - Georgia state Sen. Jennifer Jordan Sterigenics

Georgia state Sen. Jennifer Jordan, D-Smyrna, addresses a crowd of concerned residents at Campbell Middle School in Smyrna, Ga., on July 30, 2019, regarding Sterigenics’ Georgia facility.

Officials in Georgia have approved a plan to reduce deadly pollution caused by a medical sterilization company as talks surrounding two others continue.

The Environmental Protection Division of the Georgia Natural Resources Department said Sterigenics, a medical equipment sterilization company, will install anti-pollution controls to limit cancer-causing ethylene oxide fumes at its Smyrna facility.

Covington city officials will hold a meeting today to discuss the fate of two other facilities that infuse the air with the unhealthy gas.

Ethylene oxide is a colorless gas that is used to sterilize medical equipment and as a fumigant in agricultural products. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently flagged the chemical for its high cancer risk. The information was included in the 2014 National Air Toxics Assessment, which was completed and released by EPA in August 2018. Ethylene oxide can also impact reproduction, the agency’s research shows.

“The new findings are not due to new sources or an increased amount of ethylene oxide being released into the atmosphere,” the statement released by the Environmental Protection Division said. “Rather, EPA determined that the risk of long-term exposure to ethylene oxide was greater than previously thought and updated its risk calculations.”

The new equipment will reduce the cancer risk from 100 in one million people to two in one million, said the state officials.

The Illinois-based company has been under criticism since news broke that the neighborhood around its plant was exposed to the gas at elevated rates. About 3,000 pounds of gas per year was released by the company, according to recent numbers. Last week, residents who live in a Georgia community near the facility demanded that the company shut down operations.

Philip Macnabb, president of Sterigenics, vowed then that the company would find a way to reduce the cancerous fumes, The Center Square reported.

“If independent tests show that our facility is emitting more than we reported, then we will take steps to address that,” Macnabb told the crowd.

The EPA is planning a meeting for Aug 19 in Cobb County where Smyrna is located. Construction on the facility should be completed in one to two years.

The EPA has also identified two other facilities tied to ethylene oxide emissions in Covington and Madison, Georgia. The sites owned by medical device company Becton, Dickinson and Company will be discussed at a town hall meeting on Monday evening. The EPD will also coordinate followups with Becton, Dickinson and Company on Aug. 20.

Two other medical sterilizers in Georgia use ethylene oxide, KPR USA in Augusta and Sterilization Service of Georgia in Atlanta, the EPA reported. A third company, Stepan in Winder, uses ethylene oxide to make laundry detergent. 

The EPD said it will be assessing the risks in those areas.

Staff Writer

Nyamekye Daniel has been a journalist for three years. She was the managing editor for the South Florida Media Network and a staff writer for The Miami Times. Daniel's work has also appeared in the Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and The New York Times.