Officials are calling for the outright closure of a medical equipment sterilization company in Vernon that has been under investigation by the South Coast AQMD for polluting the surrounding community with a dangerous carcinogen.
Sterigenics, which sterilizes medical equipment using a gas called Ethylene Oxide, or EtO, does business in both Vernon and Ontario. High levels of EtO have been discovered in both communities in the immediate vicinity of Sterigenics' facilities, prompting several notices of violation from the SCAQMD, which will decide on Tuesday what steps to take next against the company.
"We don't want this to be another Exide 2.0," Assemblyman Miguel Santiago said, referring to the release of hazardous materials from the former battery recycling facility, also in Vernon. "For it to continue to operate would be devastating to our communities. We don't want cancer-causing chemicals in our communities, period. We want it shut down."
SCAQMD's investigation into Sterigenics started in March, when initial air samples taken directly outside the Vernon facility showed elevated levels of EtO. Since then, SCAQMD has issued notices of violation to Sterigenics in April and May, and the facility's 49th and 50th Street buildings were designated as a "Potentially High Risk Level Facility" on June 7. The designation is issued when emissions data shows either a potential to exceed or that emissions have already exceeded cancer risk thresholds (greater than 100 in a million), according to the SCAQMD.
"If this was in any other neighborhood, if this was across the street from the executives who operate this facility, they'd want this shut down right away," Santiago said.
Sterigenics' Ontario facility was also issued two Notices of Violation in July due to elevated levels of EtO in that community.
EtO is a flammable, colorless gas used to sterilize medical equipment and make products such as antifreeze, textiles, solvents, detergents, and adhesives. Short-term exposure to EtO can irritate the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs, cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, while long-term exposure can cause more serious health problems, such as damage to the brain, nervous system, and cancer, particularly breast and blood cancers.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn took up the call to shut down Sterigenics in June and authored a motion to prohibit the county from contracting with the company.
"For months now, the SCAQMD has had proof that Sterigenics is emitting dangerously elevated levels of Ethylene Oxide, poisoning their workers here in Vernon and putting at risk the health of residents just a few hundred feet away in Maywood," Hahn said in a statement. "The SCAQMD needs to enforce their own rules and immediately shut this facility down until it comes into compliance. There can be no compromise when it comes to the health of our communities and protecting the air they breath."