EPA Implements Stricter Limits on Ethylene Oxide Emissions

In response to growing concerns over the health risks associated with ethylene oxide (EtO) emissions, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has finalized new rules aimed at reducing the release of this carcinogenic gas into the environment. The regulations, which target commercial sterilization facilities, seek to protect communities living near these facilities and mitigate the potential long-term health consequences of EtO exposure. 

The Dangers of Ethylene Oxide

Ethylene oxide is a colorless, odorless gas widely used for sterilizing medical equipment due to its ability to effectively eliminate bacteria and other pathogens without causing damage to delicate instruments and devices. However, prolonged exposure to EtO has been linked to various types of cancer, including lymphoma and leukemia. It can also irritate the respiratory system and cause other adverse health effects.

The Need for Stricter Regulations

Over the past years, several high-profile incidents involving ethylene oxide leaks and subsequent exposure lawsuits have raised concerns about the public health risks associated with the gas. These incidents have prompted the EPA to take action and implement stricter limits on EtO emissions from commercial sterilization facilities.

The EPA’s Final Rule

The EPA’s final rule on ethylene oxide emissions focuses on reducing the release of this hazardous gas by more than 90% from sterilization facilities. The regulations apply to approximately 90 facilities owned and operated by 50 companies across the United States. The rule establishes standards for unregulated emissions, strengthens existing standards for sterilization chambers and exhaust vents, and mandates continuous air emissions monitoring and quarterly reporting for commercial sterilization plants.

The Impact on Disadvantaged Communities

One of the key objectives of the EPA’s regulations is to address environmental justice concerns. Ethylene oxide emissions disproportionately affect low-income and minority communities, as many sterilization facilities are located in or near these areas. The EPA’s final rule aims to reduce the exposure of these disadvantaged communities to EtO and improve their overall environmental well-being.

Compliance Deadlines and Flexibility

Recognizing the potential challenges faced by sterilization facilities in meeting the new emission standards, the EPA has provided compliance deadlines that vary based on facility size. Larger facilities will have up to two years to implement the necessary pollution control measures, while smaller facilities will have up to three years, with the option to request a one-year extension.

Ongoing Monitoring and Future Actions

The EPA’s regulations addressing ethylene oxide emissions are part of a broader effort to reduce exposure to this hazardous gas. The agency is also working on comprehensive mitigation measures for ethylene oxide use under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. Ongoing monitoring and research will inform future actions to further minimize the risks associated with EtO exposure.

Sterigenics Ethylene Oxide Lawsuit Information

Sterigenics ethylene oxide lawsuits are alleging a link between EtO emissions from the company's medical sterilization plants and an increased risk of cancer. Learn more by clicking on the button.
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