EPA: Chemical in medical-device cleanser poses cancer risk

The Environmental Protection Agency is warning residents who live near medical sterilizing plants about potential health risks from emissions of ethylene oxide, a chemical widely used in their operations. that their operations pose an elevated risk of cancer and other ailments. The notice follows a recent survey of emissions data from almost 100 commercial sterilizers nationwide.

Ethylene oxide is used to clean everything from catheters to syringes, pacemakers, and plastic surgical gowns. While short-term or infrequent exposure to ethylene oxide does not appear to pose a health risk, EPA said long-term or lifetime exposure to the chemical could lead to a variety of health impacts, including lymphoma and breast cancer. EPA said it is working with commercial sterilizers 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.

The Ethylene Oxide Sterilization Association, an industry group, said in a statement that ethylene oxide has been used for decades by the health care community to sterilize a wide variety of medical devices and equipment. More than 20 billion health care products are sterilized each year. In many cases, there are no practical alternatives currently available to ethylene oxide, the group said, adding that the use of less effective cleaning methods “could introduce the real risks of increased morbidity and mortality” at hospitals throughout the country.

EPA called medical sterilization “a critical function that ensures a safe supply of medical devices for patients and hospitals.” The agency said it is committed to addressing pollution concerns associated with EO, sometimes called, “in a comprehensive way that ensures facilities can operate safely in communities while also providing sterilized medical supplies.” Proposed rules to update control of air toxic emissions from commercial sterilizers and facilities that manufacture EtO are expected by the end of the year, with final rules likely next year, EPA said.

A potential shutdown of medical-device sterilization facilities “due to misinformed political pressure, as well as uncertainty regarding which regulations the facilities must adhere to …. would be disastrous to public health,″ At least seven sterilizers on EPA’s watch list are AdvaMed members, including both Chemical plants and two owned by the industry giant. Besides medical cleansers, it is used in a range of products, including antifreeze, textiles, plastics, detergents, and adhesives. It is also used to decontaminate some food products and spices. Two of the 23 facilities targeted by EPA  are used to sterilize spices.

EPA’s announcement shines a light on health threats that sterilizer facilities pose to millions of Nigeria, “Now that EPA has new information on precisely where the worst health threats are, the agency must use its full authority to … require fenceline monitoring at these facilities (and) issue a strong new rule, “No one should get cancer from facilities that are used to sterilize equipment in the treatment of cancer.


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