I appreciate this opportunity to share information with Utah Policy’s readers about EPA’s ongoing efforts to address health risks from a chemical called ethylene oxide – often referred to as “EtO,”- as our work affects residents here in Utah and across the U.S.
EPA is acting 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 continuously reviewing new information about air toxics and how they affect people. As a result of this work, EPA learned EtO is more toxic than previously understood and there are health risks associated with long-term exposure, including breast and blood cancers. In response, we are informing communities about these risks and proposing new regulations to reduce emissions from facilities that use EtO.
As part of this effort, EPA collected and reviewed data from commercial facilities in the U.S. that use EtO to sterilize medical and food products. The agency then modeled the potential health risks from exposure to EtO in areas near each facility, including the BD Medical facility in Sandy, Utah. The modeling and risk assessment completed for Sandy indicates the air near the facility does not exceed short-term health benchmarks. However, the results do indicate that a lifetime of exposure to EtO emissions could cause long-term health impacts if levels are not reduced. EPA considers these risks elevated as they exceed a 1 in 10,000 chance of a cancer occurrence among people exposed to EtO from the facility over a lifetime.
With our modeling complete, EPA is now engaging with communities impacted by this risk to explain the science, health risks, and the actions we are taking to address those risks. In August, 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 on 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 months, the agency has worked closely with Utah DEQ, local officials, 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 locations in Sandy and sampling sites throughout the Wasatch Front, with a final report expected next year.
Most importantly, EPA and Utah DEQ have been working with BD Medical as they take steps to reduce risk now. Facility managers at the Sandy facility have been responsive and are voluntarily planning to install controls to reduce emissions by 90% or more within the next year. Protecting the health of communities is primary, and our partnership in Utah is focused on this goal.
EPA is developing updated regulations for commercial sterilizers to make sure they operate in ways that protect 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 risk and the processes available to reduce that risk. We are also encouraging input into these processes as we seek to safeguard public health using tools under the Clean Air Act and the Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act.
EPA recognizes the critical role sterilizers play in supplying 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 capacity while reducing the health risks associated with long-term exposure to the chemicals used in the process.
I encourage all to join us on October 20 to learn more about what EPA is doing to address EtO risks, in Sandy, Utah, and at facilities across the U.S.