EPA proposes new rules on ethylene oxide release

Published: Apr. 12, 2023 at 11:30 AM CDT
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LAREDO, Tx. (KGNS) - The Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA is proposing new regulations that aims to reduce the release of a toxic chemical known as ethylene oxide from private businesses.

According to the agency, this is to limit the cancer risks from exposure to this chemical that is used to sterilize medical equipment.

It’s an issue that the KGNS News On Your Side team broke locally two years ago and now environmental advocates and elected officials are speaking out about the proposal and how this could affect the Laredo community.

A gas that is used to sterilize spices and medical devices is spotlighted by the EPA.

On Tuesday, the agency proposed two new regulations aiming to reduce exposure to ethylene oxide.

A gas that is being used to sterilize 20-billion medical devices such as gloves, gowns, and catheters but exposure to ethylene oxide can elevate the risk of cancer.

If approved, one of the proposals is to require 86 commercial sterilizers across the country to reduce gas emissions from these facilities to 80-percent.

The agency said this would bring ethylene oxide emission levels down.

The second proposal is to decrease the exposure on workers who use the gas to sterilize products and for people living near sterilization facilities.

Although the EPA has yet to release the names of facilities they will spotlight.

Back in 2021, KGNS News reported that the company Midwest Sterilization was releasing the chemical into the air in Laredo.

Tricia Cortez from the Rio Grande International Study Center said Midwest is one of the 86 companies releasing emissions inside the Gateway City.

“In laredo its being used to sterilize medical equipment, what is significant today is that they have announced that they are going to update the rules that oversee the amount of emissions coming from sterilizers plants like Midwest and so this is going to impact about 86 of these sterilizers facilities across the country, there’s 96 but this is targeting 86 of them, Midwest is one of them,” said Cortez.

In a statement sent by Midwest Sterilization, the company said they have made changes and worked to remain in compliance with all state and federal rules but declined to present before city council..

The company stated that they will send a written update for the record.

For the last two council meetings, Laredo Mayor Dr. Victor Treviño invited the company to discuss what solutions, mitigations and or equipment that has been put in place to curb emissions of ETO.

Dr. Trevino said he will continue to push plant representatives to speak before council.

“I will share the letter with the public and try to discuss this. We would not let this go, we have to continue finding out what the problem is, where is the problem and to a certain degree there will be some solutions”, said Dr. Trevino.

Although this proposal is still under process, if passed, facilities would be required to comply with these new requirements within 18 months.

The agency will host a public webinar on May 1 to discuss proposals and risk assessment.

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