COBB COUNTY, Ga. — Sterigenics will temporarily suspend sterilization operations at its Atlanta-area plant to speed up construction they hope will lower the release of cancer-causing ethylene oxide.
On Friday, Sterigenics released a statement regarding the shut down of their sterilization process - and the use of ethylene oxide - until the first week of October.
Sterigenics uses ethylene oxide to sterilize medical tools. The company has been under scrutiny since July when WebMD reported that the gas can cause cancer. Two residents living near the plant have filed legal paperwork challenging a deal made between the company and the state Environmental Protection Division.
Since communities have vocalized their opposition regarding ethylene oxide, steps have been taken to lower emissions. Sterigenics announced last week the plant would have periodic shutdowns as they work to expedite the "installations of enhancements" at its facility. The company has vowed to add "scrubbers" to treat air leaving the plant.
“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 company said.
It has since come to the conclusion that the construction project will move more quickly without operations continuing for the time being.
"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," the statement reads.
“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,” the company said.
Last month, the city of Atlanta, Cobb County and Smyrna entered an agreement to test the air in areas near a plant where emissions of a cancer-causing compound have been reported.
On Friday evening, officials said the work is not expected to drastically alter air monitoring. In a statement, officials said Sterigenics notified the Smyrna-Cobb County-City of Atlanta oversight committee about their proposal to suspend production as construction takes place.
The committee is working with an independent air quality task Force for air testing. The firm, GHD Services, started putting out air monitors this week.
"The planned work is not expected to significantly alter the task force’s work to independently monitor the air for ethylene oxide emissions," the statement said.
Smyrna Mayor Max Bacon said the task force already made provisions for that.
"The Task Force had already taken this into account during their planning and those involved assure us it will not negatively impact our efforts," Bacon said in the statement.