Gov. Brian Kemp pledged to meet next week with representatives from the Smyrna-area Sterigenics facility and a similar plant in Covington owned by BD Bard “to ensure that they take responsibility, embrace transparency and work with their communities to build trust,” Kemp said.
The promise comes in the wake of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division’s plans to monitor the air around the two plants, which both use a chemical called ethylene oxide to sterilize medical equipment. That gas has been labeled a carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The plants have been the center of controversy since last month when a report from Georgia Health News and WebMD revealed data from an EPA study estimating that around the Smyrna-area plant, ethylene oxide causes 114 extra cases of cancer for every million people exposed over their lifetimes.
The governor announced his plans to meet in a video message posted on Twitter on Friday.
“As a parent, I understand why local families are worried,” he said. “The results are confusing, the news coverage is frightening and the public has been left in the dark. This situation is simply unacceptable.”
In the same statement, Kemp said he was pleased Sterigenics agreed to voluntarily reduce its emissions and said the state was “negotiating” with BD Bard to make sure they do the same.
Sterigenics has said it has been working to reduce emissions since before the report was published and the amount of ethelyne oxide put out at the Smyrna-area facility has dropped 90% since 2014.
Around the start of the month, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division approved new changes to the plant that the company said would further reduce emissions.
Sen. Jen Jordan, D-Sandy Springs, whose district includes areas that may be impacted by the plant, was not impressed by Kemp’s plan to meet with the companies.
“It’s too little too late in a lot of ways,” she said. “The Kemp administration has known about this problem for over a year, the Deal administration and then the Kemp administration. The (Georgia Environmental Protection Division) was made aware of this I think in August of last year, and there was really nothing done by EPD to try to, No. 1, inform the public, or two, to address the situation until the story broke in July. So you’re dealing with a credibility issue in that you have folks now saying they’re on top of it, don’t worry, when in fact, the only reason anyone is saying anything now is because of the public outcry.”
State Rep. Erick Allen, D-Smyrna, also did not express confidence in the meeting.
“I’d be interested to know what the outcome is, but I don’t know what the meeting will do at this point,” he said. “I’m truly waiting to see what the outcome is because I’m not sure what that meeting will reveal. … They’ve known about this for years and failed to notify the community.”
On Monday, Cobb County is set to host a meeting including federal EPA officials and staff from the Georgia EPD as well as the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The doors of the Cobb County Civic Center at 548 South Marietta Parkway in Marietta will open at 5 p.m. for an open house featuring booths from the meeting’s participants and chances for residents to ask questions prior to the start of the meeting at 7.
The EPD is set to begin its testing around the two plants in the coming weeks, and results are expected to be available in November.