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EPA holds community meetings amid concerns over sterilization facility pollution in South Memphis

The meetings are set for Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022, at Monumental Baptist Church.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Leona Golston has lived in South Memphis for most of her life, but the 78-year-old said sometimes it’s hard for her to breathe when she’s out sitting on her front porch. 

“Some people; they come and visit me and stuff and say ‘what is that I smell’; that’s the stuff coming off the riverside over there you know, they can hardly get their breath," Golston said. "We have to get up and go in the house.” 

Golston said at least once a month the wind blows the smell of chemicals from the nearby Sterilization Services of Tennessee, a facility that uses ethylene oxide (EtO) to sterilize equipment for businesses throughout the state of Tennessee.  

“When they burning stuff that’s when it flares up," Golston said. "A lady told me they be taking the stuff over from the hospital.” 

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The facility is less than a mile away from her home and for the past few decades since the facility moved into her community, Golston has done all she could to escape the smell.  

The Sterilization Services of Tennessee does follow the Environmental Protection Agency’s current rules but activists said the long-term exposure to EtO could lead to long-term health impacts if emissions continue.

“That long-term exposure to that particular chemical, that gas in the air can cause health issues, cancer, breathing issues, eye damage, lung damage .... damaged throat, that type of thing," Angela Johnson, a Memphis Community Against Pollution (MCAP) volunteer said. “This transcends beyond whether you have the academic terminology prepared or ready for it or not. It's you know something is wrong, you’re breathing it in, you're raising your children in it, you’re retiring in this environment; you know something is wrong.”

EPA officials plan on meeting with residents in person and online in south Memphis on Tuesday, October 18 at Monumental Baptist Church.  

Meeting 1: 

  • Open House: 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. 
  • *In-person only Community Meeting: 11:15 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. 
  • In person: Monumental Baptist Church, located at 704 S Pkwy E in Memphis
  • By phone: Call in number: (883) 435-1820; Webinar ID: 1614966124
  • Online via Zoom: https://bit.ly/3DnGFTQ

Meeting 2

  • Open House: 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. 
  • * In-person only Community Meeting 7:15p.m. 8:45 p.m.
  • In person: Monumental Baptist Church, located at 704 S Pkwy E in Memphis
  • By phone: Call in number: (883) 568-8864; Webinar ID: 1617052397
  • Online via Zoom: https://bit.ly/3DnGFTQ 

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