Contaminated Community Generic Graphic

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - The Environmental Protection Agency told the City of Memphis Sterilization Services of Tennessee on Florida St. could be putting out hazardous fumes into the air.

The plant uses a colorless, odorless gas called ethylene oxide, or EtO, to clean medical equipment. This week, members of the EPA traveled to Memphis to warn residents of the potentially hazardous gas and its impacts.

The EPA said breathing it over a long period of time could cause cancer.

"My father died of cancer. That could've been one of the causes of his cancer," Kermit Moore, who lives a few blocks away from the sterilization plant, said.

Fighting for clean air and less pollution is a battle Moore said South Memphis residents have been working to overcome for decades.

RELATED: Community concerned after neighborhood exposed twice to potentially hazardous air

"We've been subjected to everything in South Memphis," he said. "They tried to bring a pipeline last year, this company, other companies, we need better regulations."

The EPA says they are learning new information about EtO and how dangerous it could be to people living and working nearby.

"This is a risk that if I am exposed to it from the time I was born to maybe age 70, I would have a greater chance of developing some form of cancer. Maybe breast or lymph cancer," Caroline Freeman, the EPA Region 4 air director said.

Shelby County Health Director Dr. Michelle Taylor said her office is partnering with the state health department to conduct a cancer cluster study.

"What we will be examining is whether there is a higher risk of cancer that we know can be caused by EtO in the affected community and well be comparing that to cancer rates in other parts of Shelby County," she said.

READ MORE: EPA concerned about air quality around South Memphis business

The EPA is working on a new rule to limit EtO emissions from commercial sterilizers.

In the meantime, the agency is working with Sterilization Services of Tennessee on ways they can control emissions and reduce risks.

The plant is following all current safety rules and regulations.

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