The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has asked Gov. Brian Kemp to allow Sterigenics to open its closed facility in Cobb County and sterilize medical equipment needed in the fight against the new coronavirus.
A letter from FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn says there is a shortage of personal protective equipment like masks, gloves and respirators that are especially needed during the COVID-19 outbreak. The closure of the Sterigenics plant, which followed a public outcry over emissions of ethlyne oxide there, is exacerbating the shortage, the FDA commissioner said.
“Due to the recent challenges with the closure of some commercial sterilizers, such as the Sterigenics facility located in Cobb County, the supply of critical PPE (personal protective equipment) during the COVID-19 outbreak has been further limited. FDA is asking for your assistance in helping to increase the supply of PPE to help protect against COVID-19 by working with Sterigenics to allow for the appropriate sterilization of PPE,” Hahn wrote in the letter dated Thursday.
According to the letter, FDA officials met with Cobb County Manager Rob Hosack on Wednesday to discuss the shortage of personal protective equipment.
The Sterigenics plant located near Smyrna shut down in late August to expedite emissions improvements on the facility as requested by the state. At the time, residents from the surrounding community had raised concerns over use of ethylene oxide, a cancer-causing chemical, for sterilization of medical equipment and instruments.
Later, the county imposed a stay on any reopenings. The facility remains closed pending county-initiated third-party investigations into Cobb fire code and building safety concerns.
When asked for comment, Cobb County Commission Chairman Mike Boyce sent the MDJ a county statement: “We have been in a series of ongoing discussions with representatives of the US FDA, the Governor’s office, and Sterigenics concerning the COVID-19 virus and our desire to do anything to help stop or slow the spread of the disease. Those discussions continue and we hope to come up with an agreement on a path forward soon.”
The FDA request comes after Sterigenics urged Cobb officials last week to allow it to operate and respond to the public health crisis. Sterigenics CEO Phil McNabb previously told the MDJ the company should be cleared to continue operations immediately to help fight the virus.
“We’ve got what represents probably the most efficient facility, possibly in the world, around the capture and control of ethylene oxide that is right now not operating in time, probably where there’s more focus on the need for medical devices than before,” he said. “And the reason it’s not operating is because of — I’ll call it bureaucracy — around re-looking at through a third party what the county has validated for over 40 years: that the facility has the appropriate certificates of occupancy, it’s a safe facility, and we’re looking for a third party to validate that. That process has been going on for five months.”