The state Environmental Protection Division is investigating a July 31 release of the carcinogenic gas ethylene oxide at the Smyrna medical sterilization facility that is embroiled in controversy over possible emission risks for residents in such areas as Buckhead.
The gas leak happened the day after a Cobb County community meeting about the cancer-risk controversy at the facility, which is run by a company called Sterigenics.
According to a Sterigenics spokesperson, “less than six pounds” of the gas ethylene oxide leaked from a drum. Sterigenics said that amount is below the state reporting requirement.
Sensors detected the leak and employees “vacated” the area, according to a written statement from Sterigenics.
“The source of the release was immediately identified and stopped,” the statement says. “It was determined that less than six pounds of EO [ethylene oxide] was released from a used EO drum on which the valve was not completely closed after use. Although this release was below the level required to be reported to the EPD, Sterigenics took immediate corrective actions to ensure similar incidents do not occur in the future.”
“EPD has been made aware of a potential release on July 31, 2019 at the facility and EPD is conducting an investigation of the incident,” said EPD spokesperson Kevin Chambers.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution revealed the leak investigation on Aug. 27.
Controversy about Sterigenics followed a recent report from WebMD and Georgia Health News, which revealed federal estimates of elevated cancer risks from emissions of the invisible, odorless gas around its facility. The company uses the substance in its process of sterilizing medical equipment at the 2971 Olympic Industrial Drive facility, less than a mile from the Buckhead border.
Air quality tests are pending to see whether there is any actual current danger for residents of western Buckhead and other areas.
Sterigenics says it has always operated within federal guidelines and says it already captures “99.9%” of ethylene oxide emissions. The company recently entered an agreement with the state Environment Protection Division to add further emission controls that will take three to eight months to build.
State Sen. Jen Jordan (D-Atlanta), who represents the area around the facility, blasted Sterigenics for not revealing the leak on its own.
“[The] revelation that Sterigenics failed to disclose yet another leak at its facility just days before it entered into a rushed consent agreement with the state shows why public distrust of the facility is warranted,” Jordan said in a written statement. “The newly discovered leak occurred on the same day that Sterigenics filed its permit application and on the same day that the company’s CEO told hundreds of citizens that it had nothing to worry about. Clearly, they do. If worries about health and safety weren’t enough, area homeowners are starting to see their home values take a hit. When is enough going to be enough?”
Jordan said she heard about the property-value concerns from “constituents and some real estate brokers.”
Update: This story has been updated with comment from state Sen. Jen Jordan.