At Long Last, EPA Updates Ethylene Oxide Standards for Sterilization Facilities

Statement by Darya Minovi, Senior Analyst, Union of Concerned Scientists

Published Mar 14, 2024

Today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued its final rule to limit emissions of the invisible and carcinogenic gas ethylene oxide (EtO) from facilities that sterilize medical equipment and some dried food products.

Nearly 14 million people live within five miles of an EtO-emitting sterilization facility, according to a 2023 study by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), and these areas show an elevated risk of cancer for people living nearby.

The final rule tightens emissions limits at commercial sterilizers, significantly reducing the risk of ethylene oxide exposure for workers and communities around these facilities. This long-overdue rule is an important step toward reducing the harms of ethylene oxide, according to UCS.

Below is a statement by Darya Minovi, senior analyst for the Center for Science and Democracy at UCS.

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“For far too long, communities across the country—especially Black and Brown people and those who do not speak English as a first language—have been exposed to the cancer-causing chemical ethylene oxide. EPA’s own research has shown for nearly a decade how dangerous ethylene oxide is, and today, EPA has finally taken action.

“Make no mistake—politically powerful industries sought to weaken the rule’s health-protective standards, but the public health benefits that will be afforded to communities through this action are a testament to the efforts of grassroots advocates and public health experts who didn’t let up in their demands. EPA’s duty to listen to impacted communities and follow the best available science are key to democratic rulemaking processes.

“While the rule is critical to safeguarding the health of the people who live, work, and recreate around sterilization facilities, there are also areas where it falls short of the requests made by countless community members and advocates. For example, EPA extended the timeline by which companies must comply with these regulations and removed a proposal to require sterilization facilities to obtain Title V permits, which provide an additional layer of accountability and public participation requirements.

“The fight isn’t over. Sterilizers are a significant source of ethylene oxide, but not the only one, and EPA has more work ahead in limiting the harms of this dangerous chemical. We’ll continue to push EPA to ensure proper monitoring and enforcement so that this rule succeeds in reducing ethylene oxide pollution and protecting public health.”