EPA Calls for Reduced Ethylene Oxide Emissions

April 12, 2023
New proposal wants to lower exposure to the colorless gas that has been linked to increased cancer risks.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing new health protections to reduce exposure to Ethylene Oxide (EtO), including more stringent air emissions standards and additional protections for workers.

Ethylene oxide (EtO) is a colorless gas used to make other chemicals, including antifreeze, textiles, plastics, detergents and adhesives. EtO also is used to sterilize equipment and plastic devices that cannot be sterilized by steam, such as medical equipment.

According to the EPA, EtO use can contribute to increased cancer risk. The EPA recently issued three proposals that together will reduce the health risks in communities and for workers.

The first proposal calls for reducing EtO emissions from chemical plants. On April 6, 2023, the agency announced a proposal under the Clean Air Act that would update several rules that apply to plants that make synthetic organic chemicals and plants that make a variety of polymers and resins. One of those rules is “the HON,” which is shorthand for Hazardous Organic NESHAP. This would reduce 6,053 tons of air toxics per year, including EtO, chloroprene, hexane, benzene, methanol, 1,3-butadiene, and vinyl acetate, among others, says the EPA. Once the final rule is fully implemented, it would reduce 58 tons of EtO per year. According to the agency, that’s a 63% reduction compared to nationwide estimated EtO emissions from all sources in 2020.

However, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) in a recent statement, argued the EPA’s risk valuations are inaccurate due to the agency’s overreliance on its Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS). ACC indicated that any reliance on the IRIS value could lead to legal challenges, reported Jonathan Katz in an article for Chemical Processing.

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