CPLC: Statement on EPA study that identifies 23 high-risk EtO facilities

Medical instruments being sterilized in an autoclave. sterilizer.
Steam sterilization, dry heat sterilization, chemical sterilization using gases like ethylene oxide, and radiation are among the most common methods used to properly sterilize a medical device. [Image: Robertprzybysz/Canva]

Earlier this month, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released results of a study identifying 100 communities impacted by exposure to ethylene oxide (EtO) released from sterilizing facilities. The EPA named 23 high-risk ethylene oxide sterilizer facilities that have a cancer risk rate above EPA’s 100-in-a-million unacceptable risk rate. Waukegan was not among the named communities. This is great news for our community. We are grateful for this small, positive sign that our local sterilizing facility has followed through on its promise to Clean Power Lake County to install additional pollution controls.

We stand in solidarity with the named communities and urge the EPA to do more than simply engage communities about the dangers of EtO. It is essential that at-risk communities be supported through continuous fenceline monitoring for accurate emissions data. 

Moreover, we challenge the EPA to recognize that distribution and storage facilities also pose a potential risk for EtO emissions. They should be monitored as well so that all potential sources of exposure to EtO used for sterilization can be identified. 

Clean Power Lake County also recognizes that the study applies to a very specific industry. In Illinois, medical sterilization facilities are regulated by strict controls.

However, the communities of Waukegan and Gurnee are impacted by a less regulated source of EtO emissions—Vantage Specialty Chemical, which uses ethylene oxide in the manufacture of other products. This industry is currently exempt from many EPA regulations. We urge EPA to close those loopholes and undertake monitoring of the neighborhoods surrounding that facility as well. 

The EPA statement is a positive step in the fight to end EtO emissions. There are many more steps to take before all communities impacted by EtO exposure—especially those at greatest risk of negative health outcomes—can feel safe in their own homes. 

EPA must do more to hold corporate polluters responsible and require them to use the most effective emissions controls possible or develop new technologies that replace the use of EtO for sterilization. 

Read more about the EPA’s EtO risk assessments and list of high-risk communities. 

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