Manufacturers that use the cancer-causing chemical ethylene oxide face new restrictions in Georgia under legislation Gov. Brian Kemp has signed into law.
Senate Bill 426 was among a flurry of 40 bills Kemp signed on Wednesday, the legal deadline for the governor to sign or veto measures the General Assembly passed during this year’s session.
Ethylene oxide is used primarily to sterilize medical equipment, a need that has garnered a great deal of attention during the coronavirus pandemic.
The bill, which was introduced by Sen. Brian Strickland, R-McDonough, requires manufacturers that use ethylene oxide to report any waste spills or gas releases to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) within 24 hours. The director of the EPD then must post the information on the agency’s website.
The need for tighter regulation of ethylene oxide became apparent last winter after public concerns were raised over unreported releases of the chemical at a Sterigenics plant in Smyrna and a facility in Covington operated by BD Bard.
The bill passed overwhelmingly in both the state Senate and House of Representatives, with strong support from the Cobb and Newton county legislative delegations.
Also on Wednesday, Kemp signed a constitutional amendment calling for a statewide referendum in November on whether to require that dedicated state funds be spent on their intended purpose.
Committing dedicated state money such as Georgia’s Solid Waste and Hazardous Waste trust funds to their intended use was a longstanding priority of the late state Rep. Jay Powell, R-Camilla, who died unexpectedly last November.
Another measure Kemp signed on the final day for bill signing will reserve a permanent slot in annual state budgets for the funding of freight rail improvements.
Opponents had urged the governor to veto the bill, sponsored by Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, because it could be used to put state funding toward privately owned “short-line” freight railroads, not just those owned by the state.
While the legislation authorizes the Georgia Department of Transportation to fund freight rail projects, this year’s tight state budget doesn’t contain any money for that purpose.