A regulatory hearing board rejected a proposal requiring a Vernon-based medical sterilization company to shut down whenever its emissions of a cancer-causing gas passed a certain threshold after a company representative refused to agree to lower the limit.

Under the original terms of an agreement, Sterigenics would need to cease operations at its 49th and 50th Street facilities anytime air monitoring detected a carcinogen called ethylene oxide at a level that is 10 times higher than the state’s allowable limit for two days consecutively, or if it reached a threshold 20 times higher in a single day. The proposal also required the company to immediately build temporary enclosures and eventually permanent dry beds around the facility to better contain the gas, among other changes.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District’s staff and the company had tentatively reached an agreement after months of negotiations, but the hearing board declined to accept it, with board members saying that they felt the limits for triggering a shutdown should be halved to put real pressure on the company to keep its emissions under control. The board did not have issues with any of the other requirements.

Air monitoring data released by the South Coast AQMD shows that the company has only exceeded the board’s amended limits — 18.3 parts per billion (ppb) over two days or 36.6 ppb in a single day — once since May 11. It has not passed the higher limits initially proposed at all in that time period. State regulations indicate that 100 workers out of a million would likely develop cancer if exposed to ethylene oxide at a concentration of 3.18 parts per billion for 25 years.

Board member Mohan Balagopalan, a former South Coast AQMD engineer, proposed the stricter thresholds, saying he believed the limit previously stipulated to by district staff and the company was too high based on the available data.

Sterigenics’ attorney, Maya Lopez Grasse, told the board her client would not accept the amendment to the limit, which left the board with only the option to either accept or reject the previously agreed upon terms. Grasse said the cancer risk is measured in terms of “8 hours per day, five days per week for 25 years” and would not pose the same risk if someone is exposed to a higher concentration for one or two days.

Sterigenics’ facility in Vernon handles the sterilization of 45 million essential medical devices and supplies each year, including surgical kits, catheters and IVs, for nearly 100 health care manufacturers, dozens of which are in the Los Angeles area, according to the company.

In a statement, Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn praised the board for recognizing that the proposal was not “strong enough to protect public health” and renewed her call for the facility to be shut down.

“This facility continues to emit dangerous levels of this carcinogen,” she said in a statement. “I urge the South Coast AQMD Hearing Board to reconvene as quickly as possible and shut down this dangerous facility until they can lower their emissions to safe levels.”

The hearing board is currently scheduled review the matter again Aug. 30.


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