Washington (August 3, 2022)—The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its plans to engage and inform communities, states, Tribes, Territories, and stakeholders about up-to-date information on the risks posed by air emissions of ethylene oxide (EtO) from commercial sterilizers, as well as EPA’s efforts to address these risks. EPA is releasing new information on specific facilities where lifetime risk levels are the highest to people who live nearby and is encouraging impacted communities to participate in a series of public engagements to learn more. Later this year, EPA expects to propose an air pollution regulation to protect public health by addressing EtO emissions at commercial sterilizers.
EPA analysis indicates that the air near facilities does not exceed short-term health benchmarks. However, the concern is that a lifetime of exposure to EtO emissions could lead to long-term health impacts if some of these facilities continue to emit at the current levels. EPA is working with these facilities to take appropriate steps to reduce emissions.
“Today, EPA is taking action to ensure communities are informed and engaged in our efforts to address ethylene oxide, a potent air toxic posing serious health risks with long-term exposure,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “Under my watch, EPA will do everything we can to share critical information on exposure risk to the people who need and deserve this information, and to take action to protect communities from pollution.”
EPA is taking a phased outreach approach to engage the American public on this issue. This includes detailed web material with risk information for high-risk communities and a national public webinar taking place on August 10 from 8:00 to 9:30PM Eastern. EPA will be following this national level outreach with community specific engagements starting with communities where the risk is the highest.
About Ethylene oxide
Ethylene oxide, a colorless gas, is used to sterilize devices that cannot be sterilized using steam or radiation, such as some medical and dental equipment. According to the Food and Drug Administration, EtO is currently used to treat approximately 50% of sterile medical devices, about 20 billion medical devices annually. EtO is the only safe and effective sterilization method currently available for some devices. However, EPA is working to reduce EtO emissions and FDA is looking to identify alternatives to EtO.
EtO is also produced in large volumes at some chemical manufacturing facilities. In the U.S., it is primarily used to make other chemicals that are used to make a range of products, including antifreeze, textiles, plastics, detergents, and adhesives. EtO is also used to sterilize some food products and spices.