Monday, November 30, 2020

EPA is assessing ethylene oxide for cancer risk

In this week's Chemical and Engineering News, this news item from Britt Erickson on draft EPA regulation on ethylene oxide: 

Ethylene oxide, a gas commonly used to sterilize medical equipment and spices*, poses health risks to workers and communities surrounding sterilization facilities, the US Environmental Protection Agency says in a draft risk assessment.

The EPA conducted the evaluation as part of the reregistration review process for pesticides. The agency regulates the use of ethylene oxide as a sterilant, which it considers an antimicrobial pesticide.

The draft assessment, released Nov. 19, provides a route for the EPA to tighten regulations on ethylene oxide releases from sterilization facilities. The agency has been evaluating options for reducing ethylene oxide emissions since a 2016 assessment showed that cancer risks are greater than the EPA previously thought. In its August 2018 air toxics screening assessment, the EPA pointed to ethylene oxide emissions from commercial sterilization facilities as a major contributor to the elevated cancer risks.

Ethylene oxide “is used on half of all sterilized medical devices in the United States annually and, in some cases, it is the only sterilization method available,” Alexandra Dunn, assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, says in a statement.

As a teenage hospital volunteer, I clearly remember one day when the basement was shut down because of an ethylene oxide leak in the sterilization space. It's not surprising to me that it's an effective sterilizing agent, but it seems to me that something as toxic (and flammable!) as ethylene oxide would attract quite a bit of research to make it obsolete...

*Spices? Yes, spices.

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