EPA has issued a new warning targeting residents of 13 states who happen to live in the vicinity of medical sterilizing plants. The culprit is Ethylene Oxide, a chemical widely used in the sterilization of medical equipment and also in decontamination of spices.
Residents in the following cities are more susceptible: Laredo (Texas), Ardmore (Oklahoma), and Lakewood (Colorado), further adds the EPA.
Besides warning the public, the agency has informed more than twenty commercial sterilizers that their use of the chemical mentioned above is causing dangerous health hazards to the general public who live nearby. There is an increased risk for cancer and other diseases. Of these twenty-plus commercial sterilization services, 19 are in the continental U.S. The rest are in Puerto Rico.
A recent survey on emissions data from more than 100 commercial sterilizers across the nation fuelled these recent actions from the EPA.
What bothers the EPA is no temporary or short-term chemical exposure. What worries them is the long-term exposure. The possible diseases include breast cancer and lymphoma.
To make matters worse, the chemical is used to clean any medical devices, be it syringes or surgical gowns. It is not used in moderation but is widespread in cleaning medical instruments. Such a general use increases the risk aspect of the chemical.
“Today, EPA is taking action to ensure communities are informed and engaged in our efforts to address ethylene oxide, a potent air toxic posing serious health risks with long-term exposure,” said Michael Regan, administrator, EPA.
However, some chemical experts also put forward an argument that the chemical is hardly new to the medical world. On the contrary, it has been a permanent presence in the industry for several decades, especially in the U.S.
The other argument is that ethylene oxide is a potent cleaning agent and has been very effective in cleansing various types of medical equipment. Therefore, if medical devices are not appropriately cleaned, health hazards are likely as well. The medical world is eagerly awaiting further actions on the issue.