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Sterigenics president meets with Cobb commissioners, explains small 2018 leaks

He addressed the board during a work session on Monday afternoon.

The president of the company at the center of an ongoing public health concern in Cobb County got the chance to meet with the county's board of commissioners on Monday afternoon for a work session.

The meeting between the executive, Philip Macnabb, was streamed on the county's YouTube channel

Sterigenics operates a plant in southeast Cobb County that emits a chemical called ethylene oxide, used in sterilizing medical devices. It has been the source of anxiety in the community after a WebMD report last month referred back to a 2014 federal report, the National Air Toxics Assessment, showing elevated cancer risks in the areas around the plant.

The chemical is carcinogenic, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, though the agency measures its cancer risk assessments over a lifetime of exposure.

During Monday's meeting MacNabb, addressed reports about leaks company the company had last year - one in April 2018 and another in July 2018.

RELATED: Cobb Co. and Covington to pay for air testing after concerns about emissions

Here's what he said happened in the first leak.

"There was a pipe where there was a small leak of ethylene oxide that came out, and one of our low-level detection systems picked that up," he explained. "So the facility shut down the operation did the investigation."

He said there were two investigations, and one of them thought there might have been a possible severed pipe.

"So we reported to the EPD a possible leak of greater than 10 pounds," he added. "But when we asked them to photograph and send examples of the pipe, it was not a severed pipe. There was just a fault in the wielding area connecting two pipes."

After testing, MacNabb said they found that about three pounds of the toxic gas escaped. 

He said in the second incident, there was a valve failure, but it didn't result in a release into the environment. However, an employee was injured.

"There was an immediate combustion and an employee was injured during this period," he explained. "Fortunately, the employees on the shift were able to shut everything down, get him the medical attention he needs, and he's in recovery."

This resulted in about a one pound release of the gas, MacNabb said. 

He said in the last 10 years, those were the only two incidents he's aware of that they've reported to the Environmental Protection Division.

During the meeting, he also talked about the company working to enhance their process. MacNabb sad the EPD approved construction of voluntary enhancements in advance of new regulations to help reduce ethylene oxide emissions.

They hope to install a negative pressure system, seal off existing ventilation points inside of the plant, and more. 

Karen Hays, the chief of the Air Protection Branch of the EPD also spoke at the meeting. 

She explained they have agreed to do ambient air monitoring near the plant and other areas, including in Covington, where a plant emitting ethylene oxide by a different company, BD Bard, has also caused concern.

Executives from Sterigenics met with Gov. Brian Kemp last week, agreeing to "scrub" the air around their plants.

"I appreciate Sterigenics' willingness to voluntarily agree to a significant reduction in ethylene oxide emissions," Kemp said in a tweet. "This proactive measure demonstrates commitment to the local community & helps to restore public confidence."


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EPA testing shows ethylene oxide levels meeting or exceeding risk thresholds miles from plants

Lawmakers: Residents in Fulton County should also be concerned about cancer-causing chemicals

State officials approve plan to reduce cancer-causing chemical coming from plant near Smyrna

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