Sterigenics Sept. 3 (12).JPG

Sterigenics’ medical sterilization plant in Cobb County.

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.”

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(4) comments

Laura Searcy

I would like to know more about the increased sterilization "demand" that is fueling this request. I am a health care provider. The PPE (personal protective equipment) we are running short of are disposable gowns masks and gloves. Elective surgical procedures have been cancelled reducing demand for much reusable medical equipment that needs to be sterilized would like more information about the supposed "demand" fueling this request that justifies exposing myself and my family to even more harm on top of this pandemic and their additional COVID -19 risk due to my potential work exposure.

Nicole Kelly

This seems really opportunistic during a time where those who don't want local air poisoned have their attention turned to national crisis. Sterigenics doesn't make Coronavirus masks, or protective gear for those on the front line. They clean equipment with a dangerous chemical that causes cancer. Furthermore, there are more environmentally sensitive ways to do it. How can we be contemplating putting out children and family at risk for a myriad of health concerns and cancers while the world is on its knees reeling from this health crisis? How can we be taken advantage of at a time like this? Sterigenics was closed because they were emitting poison into our neighborhoods for years until they were shut down. Nothing has changed, and they should remain closed. Maybe the FDA can reach out all the other companies sterilizing responsibly.

Victoria Pierce

Ethylene oxide causes cancer plain and simple. So Phil MacNabb and the FDA want to capitalize on coronavirus fears by spewing contrived false equivalencies because they think they can get away with it. This is pure and simple what Naomi Klein termend Disaster Capitalism.

Johanna Williams

If the FDA did this and Obama was still in the White House (thank God he is not), then these same people would be raving about what a wonderful idea this is and what dynamic wonderful leadership Obama's FDA was demonstrating.

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