BP Medical Ethylene Oxide Emissions from Utah Plant Cause Long-Term Cancer Concerns Among Area Residents
Federal environmental regulators have expressed concerns about the long-term side effects of ethylene oxide emissions from a Becton, Dickinson and Co. (BD Medical) medical device manufacturing facility in Sandy, Utah, which could increase cancer rates among individuals living in neighboring communities.
On October 20, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hosted an online public meeting for residents in the area, indicating that while the facility’s emissions meet federal safety standards, agency officials warn that there are still potential health risks for those in the area, including long-term cancer concerns.
Ethylene Oxide Emission Side Effects
Ethylene oxide is a highly carcinogenic compound used to sterilize some medical devices, including those made of some polymers, metals, glass or made with multiple layers with hard-to-reach crevices. However, exposure to ethylene oxide emissions has been linked to serious and potentially life-threatening injuries.
Over the last couple years, there have been several major ethylene oxide spills throughout the U.S., leading to facility closures and concerns of about potential shortages, on top of the concerns about long-term cancer risks for area residents and workers exposed to the chemicals.
A number of ethylene oxide lawsuits have been filed against the manufacturers, most involving a series of spills from Sterigenics facilities in Illinois and Georgia.
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The virtual public hearing this month focused on a 650,000-square-foot BD Medical facility in Utah, which manufactures billions of IV catheters and other surgical products every year. The warnings also come after the EPA announced it was on the verge of proposing new ethylene oxide air pollution regulations in a press release in August.
At the meeting, EPA officials informed the concerned members of the community that it had conducted a risk assessment of the ethylene oxide emissions from the facility.
According to their findings, the plant’s emissions met federal standards, which allows the facility to emit one pound of ethylene oxide for every 100 pounds it uses. Currently, officials said the plant only releases two grams per 100 pounds. However, officials also warned that even these light emissions may increase long-term cancer risks for the estimated 700 residents living nearby.
As a result, BD is conducting a $15 million upgrade to the facility to reduce emissions even further, by another 95%. That upgrade should be completed by the end of the year.
Pending Ethylene Oxide Regulations
In August, the EPA announced it would begin a “phased outreach approach” to engage the public and release additional information about the risk to workers in ethylene oxide sterilization facilities and those who live or spend time near them.
The EPA has been collecting information to promulgate Clean Air Act regulations for ethylene oxide since 2018, involving data about the risks from 100 commercial sterilizers across the U.S.
In March 2019, the FDA warned that the Sterigenics plant in Willowbrook, Illinois was being shut down due to ethylene oxide leaks. Another facility in Michigan was also closed down for similar reasons. In August 2019, Georgia health officials determined similar leaks were occurring at a Sterigenics facility outside of Atlanta. That facility was shut down temporarily to address the problem.
The EPA intends to review Clean Air Act regulations regarding the sterilizing gas, expand environmental reporting requirements for sterilization facilities, use enforcement options where appropriate, re-evaluate how the gas is used and how to reduce ethylene oxide exposure risks to workers and those living hear facilities, and continue to research and better understand the toxic gas and its health effects.
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