New laws aimed at tightening state control of companies using a toxic gas with links to cancer are to be introduced by State Rep. Erick Allen, D-Smyrna, for consideration in the 2020 legislative session.
Allen announced his plan Friday to introduce “a package of bills” that address the permitting, testing and monitoring of ethylene oxide use in Georgia.
The new laws, if passed, would also lower the amount of ethylene oxide that companies are allowed to emit into the air.
Ethylene oxide is a dangerous, explosive gas used to sterilize about half of all the sterilized medical devices sold in the United States, amounting to over 20 billion devices each year, according to the FDA.
The concern with ethylene oxide use, including in Cobb County, is its effect on the health of people living and working in communities where sterilization plants are located.
In Cobb, such a plant has been operating since 1972 on Olympic Industrial Drive near Smyrna and Vinings, owned by the Illinois-headquartered multinational corporation Sterigenics.
Allen has been critical of the state’s handling of this facility, which has been closed since late August pending work to improve the control and capture of ethylene oxide emissions on site.
It’s not known when Sterigenics will be able to resume sterilization operations at the plant, as this depends on approval from the county, the state and the governor’s office.
“The people of Georgia deserve better and demand better of their government to protect our air, water and soil,” Allen said Friday. “The current laws and rules do not protect the health of our children and our families from the cancer risks caused by the release of ethylene oxide. The Georgia Environmental Protection Division must be held accountable and responsible for protecting the health and welfare of Georgians and our natural resources; this is the only way the public’s trust can be restored.”
Allen’s proposed new laws would require facilities with a permit to use ethylene oxide to report the release of any accidental, unpermitted releases of ethylene oxide, regardless of the amount, to the Georgia EPD, county governments and local legislative delegations.
Currently the EPD requires companies to immediately report any unexpected spills or releases of ethylene oxide if they’re more than 10 pounds or if the amount can’t immediately be determined.
Allen said his proposed bills would also require ethylene oxide testing at the exhaust points or stacks of facilities that use the gas, to determine how much is being released into the air at each location.
The new laws would also mandate the Georgia EPD to continuously monitor ethylene oxide emissions at locations where the gas is commercially used.
Currently the EPD permits commercial ethylene oxide use at six facilities statewide, including the Sterigenics plant in Cobb.
Various other companies operate a small facility in southwest Fulton County, another plant in Covington about 50 miles southeast of Cobb, one further still down Interstate 20 in Madison, another in Augusta, and one in Winder about 50 miles east of Marietta.
Allen said he will soon be advertising a series of “listening sessions” to discuss his proposed new laws with constituents, legislators and other stakeholders.
“Details about the listening sessions will be forthcoming,” he said.
Once Allen has received feedback in this way, he’ll file the package of new bills in the Georgia General Assembly.