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EPA seeks South Memphis community input on Clean Air Act

A South Memphis sterilization facility emits potentially cancerous chemicals in an area near residential properties.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Environmental Protection Agency is in Memphis allowing citizens to take part in a discussion as new laws are put into the Clean Air Act. 

These laws come as Memphis is declared one of the 23 cities at the highest risk of disease from a local sterilization facility’s chemical emission.

The Shelby County Health Department, EPA and community members attended the meeting Tuesday. 

SCHD Director Michelle Taylor spoke about the chemical’s impact on the community and why the meeting is necessary.

“We are participating in a community meeting being led by the Environmental Protection Agency, or the EPA, to make sure that the community is aware of a business that emits a substance called ethylene oxide, or EtO,” Taylor said.

On one hand, ethylene oxide sterilizes medical instruments so patients can be treated with clean scalpels and ventilators. On the other hand, exposure to the chemical emission from the facility can cause cancer. It's an odorless and colorless chemical only emitted into the air. The EPA said residents shouldn't be worried about it impacting water or the actual instruments they're used to sterilize.

“What we do know about EtO is that in other communities across the country, they have found a higher incidence of cancer in communities that are affected by this substance,” Taylor said. “Usually, blood cancers like leukemia or breast cancer or stomach cancer."

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