Sterilization Services of Tennessee to close ethylene oxide-polluting facility in South Memphis
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — This week, the Southern Environmental Law Center and Memphis Community Against Pollution learned that Sterilization Services of Tennessee, which has been emitting toxic ethylene oxide pollution into nearby communities for more than four decades, will finally close its South Memphis plant. The closure is a major victory for nearby neighborhoods who have been fighting for cleaner air.
In a letter to U.S. Representative Steve Cohen (D-TN), attorneys for Sterilization Services of Tennessee (SST) said the company plans to close its South Memphis facility by April 30 of next year and move to a new location outside of Memphis. The closure comes after months of advocacy from community members and local organizations who have pushed for the SST facility to either reduce the amount of ethylene oxide it releases or move out of the neighborhood.
Sterilization Services of Tennessee has been pumping ethylene oxide into the air since the 1970s. Ethylene oxide, also known as EtO, is a colorless and odorless gas that causes increased risks for cancers, including lymphoma, leukemia, and breast cancer. The Environmental Protection Agency has found that EtO is 60 times more toxic than previously understood and, last year, the agency listed SST’s South Memphis plant as one of 23 facilities that carry “elevated” cancer risks for nearby residents.
“This is the result of ‘People Power.’ When we band together, speak truth to power, and fight back against industrial polluters in our communities, justice is realized,” KeShaun Pearson, President of Memphis Community Against Pollution said. “But eight months is a long time, and neighborhoods in South Memphis shouldn’t be forced to continue to live with cancer-causing pollution. We urge local leaders to better protect communities near the Sterilization Services of Tennessee plant until its long-overdue closure.”
In February, the Southern Environmental Law Center, on behalf of Memphis Community Against Pollution, requested that the Shelby County Health Department use its emergency powers to address Sterilization Services of Tennessee’s ethylene oxide pollution. When the Health Department refused, MCAP and SELC appealed that decision. That appeal remains pending.
“Families living near the Sterilization Services of Tennessee plant have been exposed to toxic ethylene oxide pollution for far too long, and we are pleased that they may soon be able to breathe easier,” SELC Senior Attorney Amanda Garcia said. “But there is an air pollution emergency right now in South Memphis, and Sterilization Services of Tennessee should close and relocate as quickly as they can.”
While the closure of the Sterilization Services of Tennessee plant will bring some relief, air pollution remains a health emergency in South Memphis. Residents may have already developed cancer from exposure to ethylene oxide or they may become ill in the future. In addition, South Memphis, which is made up of predominantly Black neighborhoods, continues to be overburdened with industrial facilities that impact air quality and threaten the health of nearby communities. The Southern Environmental Law Center and Memphis Community Against Pollution will continue to push local leaders and industry to better protect Memphians from dangerous air pollution.
Are you a reporter and would like more information? Please visit our press contact page for a full list of SELC’s press contacts.