MEMPHIS, Tenn. — For people in South Memphis, there’s a chance that air pollution is killing them.
The Sterilization Services of Tennessee facility emits a chemical called ethylene oxide, a solution used to clean medical equipment.
Up until recently, the EPA did not deem ethylene oxide as harmful.
Now, the agency is changing its tune, admitting that there’s an elevated cancer risk within miles of the facility.
South Memphis resident Dylan Jones moved into her dream home.
“I’ve lived here for three years and, this summer, I got a pamphlet telling me that results are inconclusive on if I’ll get cancer or not by proximity to where I live,” she said.
It prompted her to learn more, do her own research, and eventually attend community meetings with the EPA.
That’s how she learned that her home was in the blue ring, within half a mile of the Sterilization Solutions of Tennessee site that has put out ethylene oxide chemicals into the neighborhood since it opened in the 1970′s.
“Increased risk of cancer, reproductive harm, breathing incidents. When the EPA came here, they told us they didn’t know how dangerous it was, that’s not good news,” Jones said.
But now, the agency does know the dangers.
On Tuesday, agency leaders told Memphis City Council that those closest to the plant are at a much higher risk for cancer and other health problems.
The rate is so high that it’s 20 times the threshold.
“We have a risk reading for that facility at 2,000 in a million. For EPA, our baseline trigger is 100 in a million and so anything at or above that level, it raises concern for us.”
The EPA says the next step is to create a new rule that would include fugitive emissions or chemicals that would escape through leaks, gas, open windows, and doors.
The agency said this is what’s affecting the neighborhoods in South Memphis, and it’s not covered under any federal regulations.
While the federal government says it will be stepping in, local leaders also say they want to do what they can in the meantime.
“We’re 20 times higher in that area than their usual cut-off. So, it’s nice to see them moving there. I think the issue we have as a community is that we would like to see things happen more quickly than it takes for federal regulation to go through that process,” said councilman Dr. Jeff Warren.
The EPA said it plans to create a new regulation and the public comment period will last 60 days.
Once the rule is final, the Clean Air Act allows up to two to three years to comply.
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