An Atlanta sterilization company has reached an agreement with Georgia state officials to reduce its ethylene oxide emissions to near zero by the end of the month or face increasingly severe penalties.
Sterilization Services of Georgia has a permit that requires the company to filter out 99% of the ethylene oxide it emits from its Fulton Industrial Boulevard facility. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the company has failed to meet its permit requirements, putting it in violation of Georgia’s Air Quality Act.
Under the agreement, Sterilization Services of Georgia will pay $3,000 per day through the end of January after missing a deadline that required the filters to be in place by the end of 2019.
The company is one of three companies in the Atlanta area that use ethylene oxide to sterilize single-use medical equipment. Sterigenics in Cobb County and Becton Dickinson (BD) in Covington also fell under close regulatory scrutiny after various media reports drew attention to the ethylene oxide problem, which Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD) had failed to disclose to the public.
Federal studies have found the gas to be many times more toxic to humans than regulators originally believed. Communities near sterilization plants that use the gas are at high risk for cancer, including breast cancer and blood cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma.
Responding to the public outcry, the Georgia EPD assessed emissions from facilities that use ethylene oxide. The agency found the average airborne concentrations of the gas to be higher in the Westchase neighborhood than any other residential area in the state. Westchase sits about a half a mile from the Sterilization Services of Georgia plant.
If the company misses its new Jan. 31 deadline, it will have to reduce its ethylene oxide use by 25% starting in February. And, if the filters still aren’t in place and running by Feb. 28, the company must eliminate its ethylene oxide use entirely, per the agreement terms.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and other sources, Georgia environmental regulators have largely abdicated their oversight responsibilities, allowing companies such as Sterilization Services of Georgia, Sterigenics, and BD to self-report their pollution emissions.
After news broke of the ethylene oxide emissions in the Atlanta area, communities pressured government officials to take a more active role in regulatory oversight. In response, the state obtained a court order to temporarily shut down operations at the BD plant in Covington and said it would not issue a new permit to the Sterigenics facility in Smyrna until it brought its emissions into compliance with state regulations.