Sterigenics has obtained a federal judge’s permission to continue operating its Atlanta medtech sterilization plant as usual until litigation with Cobb County is resolved.
The consent order signed by Judge William M. Ray of the Northern District of Georgia extends the time Sterigenics may operate the ethylene oxide (EtO) plant at full capacity. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers EtO a human carcinogen, and news of its use has sparked an outcry among residents and workers in neighborhoods surrouding EtO plants in Illinois, Michigan and Georgia.
Oak Park, Ill.-based Sterigenics filed suit against the county on April 1 and won a temporary restraining order allowing it to resume normal operations at the plant for two weeks.
In March, county officials issued an order allowing the company to reopen the plant for 21 days to sterilize only personal protective equipment for healthcare workers to use during the COVID-19 pandemic. The company temporarily shut the Atlanta plant on August 26 to voluntarily upgrade emission controls for ethylene oxide (EtO), the carcinogenic gas it uses to sterilize medical devices.
In September, Cobb County officials declared the Atlanta plant a “high-hazard” industrial facility that must meet stiffer fire safety regulations than it needed to under its previous designation as a storage facility. But the spread of COVID-19 and the need for personal protective equipment for healthcare workers spurred the company and the FDA to pressure county officials to allow the plant to reopen.
“We are pleased the court has entered the order to continue the safe sterilization of vital medical
products and devices at our Atlanta facility,” Sterigenics said in a statement emailed to Medical Design & Outsourcing. “In addition to being one of the most advanced sterilization facilities in Georgia and the United States in terms of emission control, our Atlanta facility plays a critical role in serving the urgent needs of health care workers and patients. We will continue our safe sterilization operations at the facility in the interest of public health. We are confident the legal proceedings will ultimately confirm our legal rights to continue those operations beyond the litigation for future public health needs.”