COBB COUNTY, Ga. — A Georgia state senator and a group of other residents living around a metro Atlanta plant will have their lawsuit against Georgia's Environmental Protection Division heard before a judge on Thursday.
The suit, led by State Senator Jen Jordan, accuses the agency of entering into an agreement with Sterigenics regarding the monitoring and reduction of ethylene oxide from its plant near Smyrna, Georgia - but not allowing public comment first.
The formal complaint suggests that the EPD and its federal equivalent, the Environmental Protection Agency, had access to "modeling data" that showed higher levels of ethylene oxide in parts of Georgia a full year before a scathing report released by WebMD and Georgia Health News. The lawsuit says that when the state did act, it left those most impacted by their decision in the dark - and without a voice.
But complainants who live near the plant, some of them with cancer or with family members who died from it, say the EPD didn't take any action to measure the amounts of the cancerous chemical before entering the agreement with Sterigenics.
Complainants and others in the community have expressed concern that the amount of ethylene oxide released by the plant, along with leaks of various sizes, may have contributed to cancer in their own families.
Those named in the lawsuit suggest that the Georgia EPD "blatantly violated Georgia law" in its actions regarding the consent order with Steriginics.
"Georgia EPD gave no notice to the public of the contents its proposed consent order and gave no opportunity for public comment," the lawsuit suggests.
It also says that even had the EPD decided to do nothing, "at very least Petitioners would have had their legal right to be heard preserved and not interfered with."
The suit also said that "Georgia EPD's own EtO risk analysis" concluded that emission levels resulted in a 27 to 61-times higher risk to residents around the facility than the "state finds acceptable."
Meanwhile, the lawsuit says that Sterigenics' proposed emissions level which the consent order is based on to address the problem "still exceeds the acceptable annual risk level by 12 to 24 times."
The lawsuit further hammers the agency for premature approval of a permit to Sterigenics and its agreement "that Sterigenics could continue to operate and pump carcinogenic EtO into the Petitioners' neighborhoods, shopping centers, playgrounds, sports fields, and schools" while both the state agency and company were still accessing the severity of the issue.
The lawsuit requests that a judge rule the August consent order invalid buy being in violation of applicable law. It is also directing the EPD to follow law and procedure in future consent orders between the agency and Sterigenics - particularly regarding public notice and comment.
Meanwhile, Sterigenics has been in the process of installing new equipment to limit the amount of ethylene oxide allowed in the air.