Across the country, U.S. EPA is taking steps to address emissions of ethylene oxide from some types of industrial facilities. EPA is examining these emissions based on the results of the 2014 National Air Toxics Assessment (NATA). NATA has identified the chemical as a potential concern in several areas across the country. NATA is the agency’s nationwide air toxics screening tool, designed to help EPA and state, local and tribal air agencies identify areas, pollutants or types of sources for further examination. NATA does not estimate any person’s individual risk.
Based on an examination of available data, U.S. EPA does not expect ethylene oxide levels in the air to be high enough to cause immediate harm to health. However, the 2014 NATA shows a number of areas could have elevated cancer risks from long-term (many years) ethylene oxide exposure. These potential risks are largely driven by an EPA risk value that was updated in late 2016.
Nationally, U.S. EPA is taking a two-pronged approach to address ethylene oxide emissions:
- First, the agency will review its air toxics regulations for facilities that emit ethylene oxide. U.S. EPA has begun reviewing its air toxics emissions standards for miscellaneous organic chemical manufacturing facilities, some of which emit ethylene oxide. The agency also plans to take a closer look at its rules for other types of facilities, beginning with its emissions standards for commercial sterilizers.
- Second, U.S. EPA is gathering additional information on industrial emissions of ethylene oxide, which may include data from testing at some types of facilities. This information will help U.S. EPA as it looks for opportunities to reduce EtO emissions as part of its regulations review. It also will help the agency determine whether more immediate emission reduction steps are necessary in any particular locations.
EPA will post updates on its work to address ethylene oxide emissions at https://www.epa.gov/ethylene-oxide
The 2014 NATA estimates that EtO significantly contributes to potential elevated cancer risks in some census tracts across the U.S. (less than 1 percent of the total number of tracts).
The 2014 NATA uses emissions data from 2014 (the most recent data available), along with the latest scientific information on air toxics and health, to estimate air toxics exposures and potential public health risk in census tracts across the United States.
Ethylene oxide is used to sterilize equipment and plastic devices that can’t be sterilized with steam, such as medical devices. It also is used to make other chemicals. One of those is ethylene glycol, which is used to make everyday products such as antifreeze, PVC plumbing pipe, vinyl flooring and plastics products, including recyclable plastic containers and bottles.