KGNS On Your Side: Laredo man attributes health issues to ethylene oxide emissions

Published: Jun. 26, 2023 at 10:55 AM CDT
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LAREDO, Tx. (KGNS) - Laredo residents still have time to submit comments to state and federal environmental agencies in regard to a commercial sterilizing plant in town called Midwest Sterilization.

It was only nine months ago that the Environmental Protection Agency visited Laredo alerting people about the problem and what the plans are for the future.

Efforts like air monitoring were mentioned which is something that has been funded by multiple entities in Laredo and Webb County; however, there is more to come.

The KGNS On Your Side Team has been following the story about a commercial sterilizing facility in Laredo that emits a hazardous air pollutant called ethylene oxide.

Currently, the Environmental Protection Agency is accepting public comments in regard to a proposal to reduce ethylene oxide emissions from commercial sterilizers like one in town called Midwest Sterilization.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is also accepting comments regarding Midwest’s proposed air quality permit renewal.

As these processes continue, many people are waiting for change, especially those who say they have been impacted the most by the emissions.

*The images in this story may be disturbing to some viewers: Viewer discretion is advised*

Rogelio Martinez, 26, who was once a long-time Mines Road resident had a brain tumor removed last November.

“I don’t want people to end up like me, or worse, and there’s people worse than me. I don’t want them to give up. I don’t want them to stay silent anymore. I want them to fight. If I’m fighting, I hope they do too cause it was a great injustice they did to us,” said Martinez.

Growing up, Martinez recalls suffering from different health issues such as intense migraines, extreme eye irritation, nosebleeds, and asthma.

By high school, Martinez started having seizures and when he got his master’s degree everything changed.

“My hands right now are cold, there you can see them, they’re a little bit blue, cyanosis. When I had the tumor, it caused sensitization. This is ethylene oxide contact dermatitis, and it irritates in the sun. See this is the scar they left me after the craniotomy, it’s psychologically damaging every day to feel the two, the plate and two screws that I can feel. It knocks the wind out of me, takes the legs from under me,” said Martinez.

After hearing about a commercial sterilizing plant off of Mines Road that emits ethylene oxide into the air, Martinez felt like everything he’d gone through suddenly made sense because he believes his symptoms are a direct cause of the air pollutant and why so many others living off of Mines Road are getting sick.

“How psychologically damaging it is and emotionally to go back into your neighborhood and see how your neighbors are sick and loved ones passed, sisters and husbands, and children,” said Martinez.

Martinez will be fighting for change in the Laredo community like so many others including the Clean Air Laredo Coalition who recently traveled with a delegation to Washington D.C.

Sheila Serna, a member of the coalition and climate science and policy director for the Rio Grande International Study Center said they are asking for a number of things from the federal agency to include in their proposed rule such as regulating off-site warehouses, which Serna said are facilities that sterilized products go to.

“There’s still ethylene oxide emissions leftover on that product, and there was a study done in Georgia on one of these off-site warehouses that found that, you know, one of these sterilized products were off gassing”, said Serna. “It was around 5,000 pounds a year that this off-site warehouse was emitting and so that’s basically creating another hotspot for ethylene oxide emissions.”

When it comes to air monitoring, Serna said they have a plan together that has been submitted to the EPA and is pending their assistance.

The comment period for the EPA lasts until June 27.

According to Serna, the comment period for the TCEQ will be dependent on their scheduled visit.

KGNS reached out to the EPA about the air monitoring projects and a representative of the agency stated that there are two projects in the works, the agency’s and the coalition’s.

The EPA has collaborated with the coalition by providing technical information on how to ensure high quality data is collected; however, they point out that the coalition can move forward at any time with or without the EPA’s advice.

According to the coalition, they will continue to ask for advice from the agency to ensure their data is up to standard. As for Midwest, the company maintains they exceed all regulatory requirements.

Martinez is receiving legal representation from Gonzalez Druker law firm.

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