Environment & Energy Report

Once-Shuttered Plant Can Sterilize Masks, Gloves to Fight Virus

March 26, 2020, 7:25 PM

A Georgia county is only allowing a medical sterilizer company to use the carcinogen ethylene oxide to clean masks, gowns, and gloves to help fight the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The Cobb County Board of Commissioners issued an order late Wednesday that allows Stergenics U.S. LLC to open up its plant, shut since August. But the company won’t be able to sterilize intravenous tubes, needles, and other medical devices.

  • The order also only allows Sterigenics to operate for 21 days, corresponding to the current length of the local emergency Cobb County declared on March 24. The county on Thursday confirmed is has “no amendments planned at this time” to allow Sterigenics to sterilize other products beyond personal protective equipment, or PPEs.
  • In a statement late Wednesday, Sterigenics said the county’s order “falls woefully short” of the measures needed to protect public health, as well as of the Food and Drug Administration’s request for assistance, by excluding “vital medical products and devices, including ventilator tubing, IV sets, catheters, and many other medical products that are essential to patient care.”
  • FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn on March 19 specifically requested Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s assistance to help increase the supply of critically needed PPEs to help protect against Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
  • Sterigenics and other companies use ethylene oxide for sterilization. The toxic gas is found naturally in ambient air. But prolonged exposure to higher concentrations can harm the brain and nervous system, and potentially cause cancer.

To contact the reporter on this story: Amena H. Saiyid in Washington at asaiyid@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Anna Yukhananov at ayukhananov@bloombergenvironment.com

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