GA: An invisible chemical is poisoning thousands of unsuspecting warehouse workers

Medical supply warehouses can be a significant source of cancer-causing ethylene oxide emissions. Only one state is doing anything about it.

This story was produced in partnership with Atlanta News First.

The bruises on Alexandria Pittman’s body wouldn’t go away. Nor would the aches that plagued her at her new job at a distribution center in Lithia Springs, a small town 17 miles west of Atlanta, sorting and repackaging boxes containing medical devices. She was convinced the symptoms were connected to the job.

Pittman had applied to the position at the warehouse, run by the medical supply company ConMed, after learning about the opening from her fiancé, Derek Mitchell, who delivered products there. Every day she’d come home and complain to him about the mysterious aches and marks. At first, Mitchell tried to reassure her, guessing that the bruises were probably from bumping up against something. “I really didn’t think nothing of it,” he recalled.

Then, in the spring of 2019, came a surprising revelation. ConMed managers announced that the seemingly innocuous products in the boxes they were packaging had been sterilized with ethylene oxide, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers a carcinogen and is linked to lung and breast cancers as well as diseases of the nervous system. Suddenly, Pittman began connecting the dots between her symptoms and those of her colleagues. It would later emerge that at least 50 warehouse workers experienced a slew of health effects tied to ethylene oxide exposure, including seizures, vomiting, and trouble breathing. Ambulances were routinely called to the facility after workers collapsed, convulsed from seizures, or broke out in hives. Several — including Pittman — developed cancer.

Since ConMed came clean about the workers’ exposure to ethylene oxide, Pittman has suffered four strokes and had brain surgery. She’s currently undergoing chemotherapy for myeloma, according to multiple claims she has filed with the Georgia State Board of Workers’ Compensation for help paying her medical bills. After the second stroke, Mitchell was unable to care for her, and she moved in with her mother where she now lives. Mitchell and Pittman had planned to marry, but the $5,000 ring Mitchell purchased now sits collecting dust.

“It just corrupted everything that she ever wanted to do in life,” said Mitchell. “She can’t talk, and she’s being fed through a tube.”

The ethylene oxide that Pittman and dozens of her coworkers were exposed to wasn’t supposed to have made it to the warehouse at all. At a sterilization plant 12 miles down the road, the chemical had been used to fumigate products before they were sent to the warehouse, a standard procedure for making sure that medical equipment is antiseptic and safe to use in hospitals across the country. More than 50 percent of all U.S. medical supplies are sterilized by ethylene oxide, due to the chemical’s unique ability to penetrate porous surfaces without causing damage.

Read More


National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators Federal Tax ID: 52-1660752 / DUNS Number: 073539913

Copyright © 2024 - NADDI. All Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy / Trademark Policy / Copyright Policy / Refund Policy

Log in with your credentials


Forgot your details?

Create Account