Following Tuesday’s town hall meeting focused on the Smyrna-area Sterigenics facility, leaders at the city, county and state levels announced Wednesday their continued pursuits to measure the effect of the company’s emission of a cancer-causing chemical.
The substance in question is ethylene oxide, which is also known as EO or EtO, was classified as a human carcinogen in 2016 by the Environmental Protection Agency.
“County Manager (Rob Hosack) and I just finished a meeting with City of Smyrna officials working to coordinate our efforts in hiring a private testing firm to do an air sample and test for the county and the city combined,” Commissioner Bob Ott said Wednesday afternoon.
Commissioners are expected to consider a measure at their Aug. 13 meeting that would authorize a contract with an EPD-certified air testing firm, along with a partnership with Smyrna and an agreement on how the governments would pay for the work. Yet to be determined is where air samples will be taken and how many. Those decisions will factor into the cost of testing, which Ott declined to give a potential range for.
“We hope to meet with potential firms next week to pick who is going to do the testing, and then we’ll have a better idea of what the cost is going to be,” Ott said, adding that any sampling would likely take 30 days but would commence as soon as possible.
Capturing each air sample will be what is known as a Summa canister, Ott said, which the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services describes as an “airtight, stainless-steel container with an inner surface that has been electro-polished and chemically deactivated.” Air that is to be sampled is “drawn” into the canister by its vacuum, with the canisters able to capture instantaneous “grab” samples or draws of air over a period between one and 24 hours.
The process was detailed in an August 2018 evaluation of potential health impacts from ethylene oxide emissions from Sterigenics in Willowbrook, Illinois. Testing there revealed elevated levels of ethylene oxide in the air in areas around the company’s facilities.
A copy of the Willowbrook evaluation was made available to the MDJ by state Sen. Jen Jordan, D-Buckhead, who on Wednesday submitted a request to the Atlanta-based Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry for an evaluation of the health risks and potential impacts of ethylene oxide emissions from Sterigenics’ Smyrna-area plant. The ATSDR is a federal public health agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“As I am sure you are aware, ATSDR conducted such an evaluation for the emissions at the Sterigenics Plant in Willowbrook, Illinois, and found an elevated cancer risk for residents and off-site workers in the community surrounding the facility,” Jordan wrote. “Because of the likelihood that the same risks exist here for communities that surround the Cobb County facility, an evaluation by ATSDR is critical.”
SMYRNA ANNOUNCED TESTING INTENTION PRIOR TO COUNTY ANNOUNCEMENT
Ott’s rundown of the testing schedule and the city-county partnership followed Smyrna Councilman Tim Gould’s announcement Tuesday night that the city would seek the testing.
Word of the city’s plans were first revealed by Mayor Max Bacon on Monday, who told the MDJ he would be ordering city staff to pursue the study, though the plant itself is not within the city’s limits.
“The mayor asked me to let you know that the city is going to move forward with independent testing. I know we’ll coordinate with the other agencies also, but we just wanted to make sure we were doing what we could immediately to engage with a third-party testing company,” Gould said, speaking on behalf of the city at Tuesday’s meeting held at Campbell Middle School.
“We’re in the midst of trying to get that settled on right now,” Gould added, which was followed by applause by many in the audience.
Smyrna officials Wednesday did not announce any potential firms that could conduct the testing, nor a possible cost or other details. Smyrna spokesperson Jennifer Bennett said it remained too soon to give any specifics on the matter.
“It’s an evolving process. Even determining exactly what the best type of testing is for our community has to be evaluated,” Bennett said. “We’re working on it, but exactly how it’s funded, whether or not it requires a council vote, those things probably have a lot to do with how much it costs and other things like that.”
Smyrna council members and city staff are scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. Thursday at city hall for their Committee of the Whole meeting, at which they will discuss the agenda for Monday’s council meeting.
Though Thursday’s agenda does not list any discussion or specific matters regarding air quality tests, Bennett said the issue could be brought up and discussed at that meeting, with a vote on Monday night possible should discussion lead to an action item.
TUESDAY TURNOUT TO LEAD TO BIGGER VENUE
Tuesday’s meeting at Campbell Middle in Smyrna filled the school’s theater and left several dozen people outside unable to get in, county spokesperson Ross Cavitt said in a release Thursday.
The theater’s capacity, based on its number of installed seating, is 436, though several dozen additional audience members were accommodated within standing room as well as chairs placed on the theater stage.
The high turnout was cited Wednesday as the reason for moving an upcoming community meeting on Sterigenics from another local school to the Cobb County Civic Center. The 7 p.m. meeting on Aug. 19 is set to have county staff as well as officials from the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the state Environmental Protection Division and the Centers for Disease Control.
U.S. Rep. David Scott, D-Atlanta, is also expected to attend, his office announced late Wednesday, joining Jordan and state Rep. Erick Allen, D-Smyrna in “calling on Sterigenics to suspend operations at their Smyrna facility until independent emissions testing may be conducted.
“The health of the people in our community is priority number one for me,” Scott said in a news release. “I am alarmed by recent reports of the Sterigenics plant emitting dangerous levels of a toxic, cancer-causing chemical into the air. … This situation is urgent and must be rectified right away.”