COBB COUNTY, Ga. — Cobb County is telling a company accused of releasing cancer-causing chemicals that it won't be allowed to restart operations until it passes a battery of safety checks.
Sterigenics was one of two companies named in a recent WebMD article regarding the release of ethylene oxide - a known carcinogen. Since that article was released near the Cobb County facility, neighbors have demanded change and lower levels of the dangerous chemical.
And while air quality tests around the plant already show negligible amounts of the cancer-causing gas, officials say the measurements aren't accurately measuring the actual air quality there.
The plant, which specializes in sterilizing medical tools, agreed to a self-imposed shut down in late August which would tentatively end in October when "air scrubbers" were installed at the location.
Sterigenics had initially suggested it would remain functional in a limited capacity and only shut down when necessary.
It has since come to the conclusion that the construction project will move more quickly without operations continuing for the time being.
But, the county's ultimatum means that timetable may no longer be valid. The county commission has announced plans to tell Sterigenics that it must stay closed until the plant can pass all safety checks from the county.
Authorities also pointed out that the plant has been operating under a permit from 1982.
“Other than renewing their business license, which doesn’t require an inspection, there was no reason for anyone to think anything was different," said County Commissioner Bob Ott.
News of the closing has lead to cautious optimism among neighbors of the plant.
“The company has done a really good job flying under the radar. That has ended," said Janet Rau, President of the grassroots organization Stop Sterigenics Georgia.
Rau believes the Smyrna plant is too outdated to meet the increased safety standards.
“We’re hoping that this ultimately does keep them from re-opening," said Rau.
A spokesperson with Sterigenics chose not to comment for this story, other than saying the company is cooperating with the county.