Sterigenics has asked Cobb County, Ga. officials for permission to reopen its medical device sterilization plant to aid in the fight against the coronavirus.
Oak Park, Ill.-based Sterigenics temporarily shut the Atlanta plant on August 26 to voluntarily upgrade emission controls for ethylene oxide (EtO), the carcinogenic gas it used 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. The county authorized third-party experts to investigate the county’s fire code and safety concerns, according to a report by the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal.
While the plant has been closed, Sterigenics installed new controls to reduce EtO emissions “beyond already safe levels protecting employees and the community,” the company said on its website. “The Atlanta facility met or outperformed U.S. EPA and Georgia (Environmental Protection Division) regulations prior to the enhancements. Voluntary upgrades to the emission control system render it one of the most advanced sterilization facilities in the world in terms of capture and control of (EtO).”
Yesterday, the company said resuming operations at the plant could help supply healthcare systems with sterilized products needed to care for coronavirus patients and protect healthcare workers. For example, Sterigenics said more than 1 million protective gowns previously sterilized at the Atlanta facility are awaiting sterilization before they can be used.
The company also said that it developed a safe method for rapid mask sterilization in China at the request of the Chinese government, and that it can replicate that solution in Atlanta. Before the plant closed, it sterilized thousands of gowns and hundreds of thousands of IV tubing sets per day, as well as other essential products, according to the company.
“The Atlanta facility could immediately focus on addressing the sterilization backlog for items needed to combat the outbreak,” the company said on its website. “Several countries have begun to restrict export of sterilized products to the U.S. and other countries. The Atlanta facility is positioned to address resulting increase in sterilization demand in the U.S.”
Cobb County spokesman Ross Cavitt told the Daily Journal that the county is in talks with the company but has not heard back from the third-party experts.
“We have had ongoing discussions in the past few days with Sterigenics representatives about the situation as we are both trying hard to address concerns about the spread of the COVID-19 virus,” the newspaper reported Cavitt saying in an email.