Sterigenics has hit back at Cobb County in regards to its medical sterilization facility in the Smyrna area, threatening legal action if Cobb does not allow the company to complete its emissions control improvements and resume operations “without further delay.”
A global corporation with over 40 facilities worldwide, Sterigenics has sterilized medical devices in its Cobb plant for decades, but this process has just recently become controversial due to health risks associated with the chemical ethylene oxide.
Cobb notified Sterigenics at the start of October that it could not do anything at its plant until it has satisfied fire marshal and building code requirements for its new high hazard industrial status.
But on Thursday, Sterigenics sent a letter to the county government, claiming Cobb staff have made several errors in assessing the plant’s occupancy status and therefore in their subsequent requirements to the company for compliance.
“If the county continues to unjustifiably prohibit Sterigenics’ work and use of its facility, Sterigenics will have no choice but to pursue the legal and equitable relief necessary to protect itself, its customers, medical providers and patients from the irreparable harm the county is causing,” states the Oct. 10 Sterigenics letter, signed by attorney Clay Massey of Atlanta law firm Alston and Bird.
The Sterigenics plant on Olympic Industrial Drive uses ethylene oxide in gas form to sterilize over a million devices every day and has been closed since the end of August while construction work to improve emissions controls is undertaken.
On Oct. 1, Cobb sent a letter to Sterigenics stating it could not restart operations until county staff were satisfied the building complied with all current safety regulations.
Cobb staff claimed Sterigenics had only listed its building occupancy status as storage up until July, when it applied for a building permit to undertake the emissions control improvements and listed the occupancy for the first time as high hazard industrial.
Sterigenics refutes this, claiming the county continues to ignore “uncontested facts” that proves the company’s Cobb plant has been and still is in compliance.
“The county’s claim in your letter that Sterigenics ‘is not permitted to engage in construction or sterilization operations at its Cobb County facility’ is inaccurate,” the company’s letter states. “Sterigenics has vested right under Georgia law to complete this construction under the building permit and to occupy its facility upon completion.”
Sterigenics claims it has storage occupancy status for a warehouse on its Cobb property, which isn’t used for ethylene oxide, as well as industrial occupancy status for the area of the plant where sterilization occurs.
“Indeed, the county has recognized Sterigenics’ sterilization facility as an industrial and high hazard occupancy for many years,” the company’s letter states. “That fact is reflected by numerous records in the county’s files.”
Sterigenics attached 52 pages of supporting documentation to its letter, as well as a fact sheet on its Cobb facility, stating it has had industrial high hazard occupancy classification since at least 1984.
It also highlighted that its emissions control improvements are of the highest industry standard and will prevent 99.9% of the toxic air from the facility escaping into the environment.
Ethylene oxide has been shown in recent studies to increase cancer risks. It is highly combustible and when combined with water it forms the main ingredient used in antifreeze.
It is also one of the only effective methods of sterilizing certain packaged, single-use medical devices such as catheters and surgical kits, according to the FDA.
Sterigenics’ Cobb plant is currently subject to increased scrutiny and investigation by the Cobb County government, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division and Gov. Brian Kemp’s office.
It is also the target of a grassroots opposition group called Stop Sterigenics Georgia, which aims to have the plant shut down unless it can prove its emissions aren’t harmful to the public.
The Georgia EPD just informed Sterigenics it has to thoroughly monitor and test ethylene oxide emissions from its Cobb plant, proving the additional emissions controls being installed at present are working satisfactorily.
In an Oct. 9 letter from the Georgia EPD to Sterigenics, the state agency requests significant additional technical information from the company about its Cobb operations, and also instructs Sterigenics to provide extensive testing and engineering analysis in regards to its ethylene oxide emissions on site.