COBB COUNTY, Ga. (CBS46) -- A plant specializing in the sterilization of medical equipment has made headlines for months after a report stated a cancer-causing chemical was being emitted into the air.
Now, after weeks of public meetings, the Sterigenics facility has suspended all operations. The decision comes on the heels of facility enhancements taking place to lower ethylene oxide emissions -- the chemical that has spurred outrage and health concerns.
On Friday, September 6, the company released the following statement:
“At the request of Governor Kemp and the EPD, Sterigenics has been working to expedite the installation of technology enhancements to our Atlanta facility and, as previously announced, has been operating under a reduced production schedule. The construction is proceeding ahead of schedule. We have determined that suspending sterilization operations, and the use of EO in those operations, throughout the duration of the work will enable us to further accelerate the installation of these enhancements and that doing so is the most efficient path to meeting the requests of all stakeholders. As we implement these enhancements to ensure that our facility operates in line with the highest control standards in the country, our team is also working with customers to minimize the impact on the supply of vital sterile medical products to hospitals and the patients who depend on them every day.”
An oversight committee with the city of Atlanta began checking air quality in the area surrounding the facility the week of September 6, just days before the announcement to suspend operations.
"We're aware of the operational shutdown at the facility," said Smyrna Mayor Max Bacon of the announcement. "The Task Force had already taken this into account during their planning and those involved assure us it will not negatively impact our efforts.
"The citizens of Georgia are entitled to just as much protection from a known carcinogen as the citizens of Illinois," said State Senator Jen Jordan.
In fact, the same day the Smyrna-based plant announced its halt of operations, a Sterigenics plant in Willowbrook, Illinois was given a decree to reopen after being closed for six months.
Similar to the metro Atlanta plant, Sterigenics agreed to make facility upgrades that would lower the emission of the toxic EtO.
Lawsuits continue to be filed against Sterigenics
The first legal action involving Sterigenics has been filed in Fulton Superior Court.
State Senator Jen Jordan and two residents living near Sterigenics are the Plaintiffs in the case, which argues the consent order agreed upon between Sterigenics and the EPD on August 7 was unlawful.
“We were given something that was negotiated behind closed doors," said attorney Cale Conley who's representing the plaintiffs. "And we believe that is negotiated in the open with scientific data with all the facts considered we’ll end up with a very different order that’s better for the community and safer for those that live here.”
What that means is that according to the plaintiffs, the consent order agreed upon was done without allowing for a period of public comment and agreed upon without the correct scientific data.
In the filing it says that the serious nature of emitting ethylene oxide into the community and the implications, warrant correct scientific data, to be available before any consent order should be considered.
((Click here to view the filing))
Something those leading this charge say needs to happen.
"Study the problem under the way the law sets up for it to be studied a period of public comment and we don't have the testing data and we won't have testing data of what their fix is or they're supposed fix until that's done," said Conley.