I appreciate this opportunity to share information with Utah Policy readers about the EPA’s ongoing efforts to address the health risks of a chemical called ethylene oxide – often referred to as “EtO” – because our work affects residents here in Utah and across the United States.
The EPA is taking action to address EtO emissions affecting air quality in our communities based on science. Our mission is to protect human health, which is why we are constantly reviewing new information about air toxics and how they affect people. As a result of this work, the EPA learned that EtO is more toxic than previously thought and that there are health risks associated with long-term exposure, including breast cancer and some blood. In response, we are educating communities about these risks and proposing new regulations to reduce emissions from facilities that use EtO.
As part of this effort, the EPA collected and reviewed data from commercial facilities in the United States that use EtO to sterilize medical and food products. The agency then modeled potential health risks from EtO exposure in areas near each facility, including the BD Medical facility in Sandy, Utah. Modeling and risk assessment conducted for Sandy indicate that the air near the facility does not exceed short-term health standards. However, the results indicate that lifetime exposure to EtO emissions could have long-term health effects if levels are not reduced. The EPA considers these risks to be high because they exceed a 1 in 10,000 chance of developing cancer in people exposed to the facility’s EtO during their lifetime.
With our modeling complete, the EPA is now engaging with communities impacted by this risk to explain the science, the health risks, and the steps we are taking to address those risks. In August, the Utah DEQ and EPA held an initial meeting for Sandy residents following the national announcement of facility modeling results. We will be hosting another community meeting, virtually over Zoom next week on October 20 at 6:30 p.m. MST.
EPA’s approach to addressing EtO risks reflects a commitment to sound science, public transparency, and collaboration. Over the past several months, the agency has worked closely with Utah DEQ, local authorities, and BD Medical to share health information and collect additional data. For example, Utah DEQ is currently conducting an EPA-supported EtO air monitoring study at sites in Sandy and sampling sites throughout the Wasatch Front, with a final report expected next year.
Most importantly, the EPA and Utah DEQ have worked with BD Medical as they take steps to reduce risk now. Sandy facility managers have been responsive and voluntarily plan to install controls to reduce emissions by 90% or more over the next year. Protecting the health of communities is paramount, and our partnership in Utah is focused on that goal.
The EPA is developing updated regulations for commercial sterilizers to ensure they operate in a way that protects those who live or work in nearby communities. Our community meetings are opportunities to be transparent and give community members access to the same information we have at EPA about risks and the processes available to reduce those risks. We also encourage participation in these processes as we seek to protect public health using tools under the Clean Air Act and the Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act.
The EPA recognizes the vital role that sterilizers play in providing safe medical products and equipment for our nation’s healthcare industry. Our goal as we move forward is to work with our partners, facilities and the public to maintain this important capability while reducing the health risks associated with long-term exposure to the chemicals used in the process.
I encourage everyone to join us on October 20 to learn more about what the EPA is doing to address EtO hazards, in Sandy, Utah, and at facilities across the United States.
KC Becker, EPA Regional Administrator