Sterigenics has filed a lawsuit against the members of a Georgia county tax board, claiming that the board’s decision to lower valuations on properties near the company’s medical device sterilization plant has harmed its reputation.
The federal lawsuit, filed in Atlanta, also claims that the members of the Cobb County Board of Tax Assessors unfairly and arbitrarily pinned their April 15, 2020, tax valuation decision on Sterigenics’ use of ethylene oxide (EtO) to sterilize medical devices at the plant. The county lowered assessments by 10% on properties within 2 miles of the plant, citing “environmental air quality concern surrounding the Sterigenics plant,” the complaint says.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers EtO a human carcinogen. Although it’s been in use as a medtech sterilant since the 1960s, EtO has really only been under heightened scrutiny for little more than a year. EtO sterilization plants have shut down in Illinois, Georgia and Michigan over concerns about emissions; the FDA has warned about device shortages (although few have materialized); concerned citizens have formed protest groups and filed lawsuits against sterilization companies; and state and local governments have been wrangling over who has the right to regulate sterilization plant operations.
“As a result of defendants’ unlawful devaluation of these properties, Sterigenics faces public scorn and an imminent, publicly-announced class action lawsuit on behalf of thousands of residents asserting defendants’ unlawful devaluation of their properties as the basis for their claims,” Oak Park, Ill.-based Sterigenics said in its complaint. “Defendants’ unlawful action therefore has caused Sterigenics substantial reputational damage, and will cause Sterigenics to suffer substantial economic harm from the imminent class action in which Sterigenics will have to face substantial unfounded liability and pay substantial sums in attorneys’ fees and litigation expenses to defend itself.”
County officials declined to comment on the lawsuit.
The EPA is reviewing its National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) for ethylene oxide commercial sterilizers. The agency received 97 comments from the public and the industry on the topic from December 12, 2019 through Feb. 10, 2020, including a statement from 11 state attorneys general arguing NESHAP fails to adequately protect workers and communities from the harmful effects of EtO. The agency recently closed a separate public comment period on the topic.