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  • Ethylene Oxide

    What is Ethylene Oxide?

    EtOEthylene Oxide (EtO) is a flammable gas used in industrial settings for a variety of reasons such as the sterilization of medical equipment and food processing. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies it as a hazardous air pollutant, which can cause cancer and serious health impacts. 

    How are people exposed to EtO?

    Exposure to EtO is possible through breathing in contaminated air (inhalation) or absorption through the skin (dermal exposure). People in or near industrial facilities that use EtO are at an increased risk of exposure through inhalation. Dermal exposure is the most common in workers exposed to a form of EtO called ethylene chlorohydrin.

    At risk populations include:
    • Medical providers working with sterilized equipment
    • Industrial workers
    • Residents living in areas near these facilities. 

    What are the health risks of EtO?

    The EPA classifies EtO as a carcinogen, or a substance that can increase the risk of cancer. This was based on studies for lymphatic and breast cancer, however additional research details links to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease, multiple myeloma leukemia, stomach, esophagus, rectum, liver, breast, pancreas, prostate, bladder, kidney, brain, nervous system, and lymphohematopoietic cancers. Recent studies also suggest the increased risk of diabetes, reproductive harm, cardiovascular disease, and neurological conditions. 

    Are there any planned facilities in Tucson that would release EtO? 

    In April 2021, Becton, Dickinson and Company (BD) applied for an air quality permit for their medical sterilization facility that would release EtO. As of now the facility has not been constructed but their permit has been approved. Visit here for the planned location of the facility and additional information.

    What risks could this facility pose to nearby residents?

    According to an assessment by BD consultants the facility emissions are estimated to result in 330 excess cancers per million people at the property line, and 19 excess per million in the nearest neighborhood. 

    What is being done to address ethylene oxide?

    The EPA has indicated that they are in the process of establishing a new emission standard. This new proposed rule is likely to be based on EPA modified cancer inhalation unit risk and will be issued in late 2022. 

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