Tuesday night at 7, outraged residents are expected to come to the Campbell Middle School auditorium and voice their frustration about a Smyrna area facility experts say is releasing a dangerous chemical.
Georgia Health News and WebMD broke the story earlier this month about the Sterigenics plant, which uses a chemical called ethylene oxide to sterilize medical equipment. In 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency classified ethylene oxide as a human carcinogen.
State Rep Erick Allen, D-Smyrna, whose district includes portions of the areas said to be impacted, has been organizing the meeting. He said other state representatives and senators are set to attend, along with Cobb commissioners, members of the Smyrna City Council and executives from Sterigenics.
Allen and state Sen. Jen Jordan, D-Buckhead, said they spoke with Sterigenics President Phil MacNabb last week and that he told the two the company would apply with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to install emissions-reducing technology within the next two weeks at the plant.
But speaking to the MDJ Monday evening, Allen said he’s not convinced that the problem is solved.
“We’ve really looked into some of the things they’ve done in Illinois that we thought were mitigating the issues but probably are not as much of a solution as what I’d like to see,” he said.
Still, Allen said he thinks the meeting will be productive.
“I’m optimistic – I’ll say I’m cautiously optimistic,” he said. “The important part about tomorrow is that we get all the facts and information out there so we can find a path forward and we have someone in our community that’s protecting our environment and citizens.”
Allen said he expects a big turnout. A Facebook group called “Stop Sterigenics Georgia” dedicated to the issue gained over 1,400 members in three days.
Cobb County spokesman Ross Cavitt said the county is working on plans to broadcast the meeting live on its YouTube: www.youtube.com/cobbcountygovt.
Sterigenics spokeswoman Kristin Gibbs responded to request for comment with a statement.
“As part of our commitment to ongoing improvement, we have consistently taken voluntary steps to reduce emissions of ethylene oxide from the facility resulting in a 90% reduction in EO emissions over the past five years,” the statement says in part. “In addition, we are working with the Georgia EPD regarding additional voluntary enhancements that are consistent with changes being undertaken in other Sterigenics facilities and which will further reduce EO emissions from the facility to negligible levels.”
The company also said the service it provides is vital to health care, sterilizing equipment including surgical kits, radiological syringes, catheters, hospital gowns and IV administration sets.
“The same properties that make EO such an important resource for sterilization also require that it is controlled carefully. We take our responsibility for the safe handling and control of EO very seriously which is precisely why we are working with the Georgia (Environmental Protection Division) to implement additional voluntary improvements.”