EPA: Chemical in Medical Device Cleaner Poses Cancer Risk | Health, Medicine and Fitness

By MATTHEW DALY Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Environmental Protection Agency is warning residents living near medical sterilization plants in 13 states and Puerto Rico about potential health risks from emissions of ethylene oxide, a chemical widely used in its operations. .

Laredo, Texas; Ardmore, Okla.; and Lakewood, Colorado, are among the communities facing the greatest risk from ethylene oxide emissions, the EPA said.

The agency has notified 23 commercial sterilizers, 19 in the continental US and four in Puerto Rico, that their operations pose an elevated risk of cancer and other ailments. The advisory follows a recent survey of emissions data from nearly 100 commercial sterilizers across the country.

Ethylene oxide is used to clean everything from catheters to syringes to pacemakers to plastic surgical gowns.

While infrequent or short-term exposure to ethylene oxide does not appear to pose a health risk, the EPA said long-term or lifetime exposure to the chemical could lead to a variety of health impacts, including lymphoma and breast cancer. The EPA said it is working with commercial sterilizers to take the appropriate steps to reduce emissions.

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“Today, EPA is taking action to ensure communities are informed and engaged in our efforts to address ethylene oxide, a potent air toxicant that poses serious health risks with long-term exposure,” the administrator said. of the EPA, Michael Regan, in a statement on Wednesday.

EPA will conduct public outreach campaigns in each of the communities where elevated risks have been found, including a webinar on August 10. More than half of the sites on EPA’s watch list are in predominantly low-income or minority communities.

Laredo, one of the communities targeted by the EPA advisory, is a border city where the vast majority of residents are Latino and more than a quarter live in poverty. Midwest Sterilization Corp., based in Missouri, operates a sterilization plant in Laredo. The company also owns a plant in Jackson, Missouri, which is on the EPA’s watch list.

More than 40% of Laredo’s nearly 70,000 schoolchildren attend campuses in areas with elevated cancer risk due to ethylene oxide emissions from the Midwest plant, according to a analysis by ProPublica and the Texas Tribune.

A Midwest spokesman declined to immediately comment. But the company told ProPublica and the Tribune last December that the cancer risk from its Laredo plant is overblown. The emissions it reported to the EPA are “worst case scenarios” rather than specific pollution levels, the company said.

The Ethylene Oxide Sterilization Association, an industry group, said in a statement that the health care community has used ethylene oxide for decades to sterilize a wide variety of medical devices and equipment. More than 20 billion health care products are sterilized each year in the US alone.

In many cases, there are currently no practical alternatives available to ethylene oxide, the group said, adding that using less effective cleaning methods “could present real risks of increased morbidity and mortality” in hospitals around the world. country.

The EPA called medical sterilization “a critical function that ensures a safe supply of medical devices to patients and hospitals.” operate safely in communities while providing sterile medical supplies.”

Proposed rules to update control of toxic air emissions from commercial sterilizers and facilities that make EtO are expected by the end of the year, with final rules likely next year, the EPA said.

Scott Whitaker, president and CEO of the Association for Advanced Medical Technology, another industry group, applauded the EPA “for its candor about what it knows and doesn’t know” about EtO, but added, “It’s critical that the EPA get it right.” ″

A potential closure of medical device sterilization facilities “due to ill-informed political pressure, as well as uncertainty about what regulations facilities must comply with…would be disastrous for public health,” Whitaker said in an email.

At least seven sterilizers on the EPA watch list are members of AdvaMed, including the two Midwest plants and two owned by industry giant Becton, Dickinson and Co., also known as BD.

In addition to medical cleaners, EtO is used in a variety 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 the EPA, in Hanover and Jessup, Maryland, are used to sterilize spices. Both are operated by Jessup-based Elite Spice.

Other commercial sterilizers cited by the EPA are located in Groveland, Fla.; Salisbury, Maryland; Taunton, Mass.; Columbus, Nebraska; Linden and Franklin, New Jersey; Erie and Zelienople, Pennsylvania; Memphis and New Tazewell, Tennessee; Athens, Texas; Sandy, Utah; and Richmond, Virginia;

Four plants are Puerto Rico: Anasco, Fajardo, Salinas and Villalba.

The EPA’s announcement sheds light on the health threats sterilization facilities pose to millions of Americans, said Raul Garcia of the environmental group Earthjustice.

“Now that the EPA has new information about precisely where the worst health threats are, the agency must use all of its authority to … require monitoring of fences at these facilities (and) issue a strong new rule,” said. “No one should get cancer in facilities that are used to sterilize equipment in cancer treatment.”

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