FILE - Georgia state Sen. Jennifer Jordan Sterigenics

In this file photo, 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.

Lawmakers and residents in Georgia are continuing the fight against a cancer-causing gas that has been emitted from two medical sterilization companies in the state.

State Rep. Erick Allen said he plans to introduce legislation to regulate the use of ethylene oxide in the state. The announcement comes as residents in Covington are asking for federal officials to examine the impacts of the gas in the area.

“The people of Georgia deserve better and demand better of their government to protect our air, water and soil,” Allen said. 

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division has identified two major companies in the state that are using high levels of ethylene oxide to complete their operations. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2016 classified ethylene oxide as a carcinogen, meaning it has a high risk of causing cancer. 

The EPA last week released amendments to its air toxic standards that call for new storage requirements for ethylene oxide.

 “The maximum individual cancer risk for inhalation is estimated to be 2,000-in-1 million,” the federal agency said.

Residents in Covington want the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to conduct a study of the cancer cases close to the Beckton Dickinson and Co. facility in their community, 11 Alive first reported. They say the gas has created a "cancer cluster" in the area. 

The medical sterilization company re-opened last week after a judge ordered that it be closed for air testing and other pollution control measures. Officials said that the company had allowed the release of 54.5 pounds of ethylene oxide into atmosphere.

Representatives for Beckton Dickinson could not be reached for comment. The company also has another facility in Madison, Georgia.

Allen said that current laws fail to protect Georgians from the risks associated with ethylene oxide exposure. He represents Smyrna, where the medical sterilization company Sterigenics is located.

Sterigenics also has been accused of polluting the air with emissions. Scrutiny from Illinois lawmakers led to the permanent closure of a Sterigenics facility near Chicago after similar concerns.

Allen said he plans to propose a series of bills that will stunt ethylene oxide overuse.

Allen’s proposed legislation would increase the monitoring of the companies’ operations. The bills will reduce the amount of ethylene oxide allowed to be released by the facilities and require them to report all “unpermitted” releases of the gas to the Georgia EPD, county and state government. 

He also plans to set boundaries on how close facilities can be to schools, residential areas and daycare centers.

Allen will host listening sessions to discuss the proposals ahead of finalizing them. The details of the sessions have yet to be announced. 

“The Georgia Environmental Protection Division must be held accountable and responsible for protecting the health and welfare of Georgians and our natural resources; this is the only way the public’s trust can be restored,” Allen said.


Staff Reporter

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.