General Information

Ethylene Oxide (EtO) is a flammable, colorless gas used to make chemicals. Those chemicals are then used to make lots of products we buy, such as cloths, woven fabrics, products made of plastic and cleaning products. Ethylene oxide is also used to sterilize medical equipment and devices. EtO is considered a hazardous air pollutant under the Clean Air Act, which means scientists believe too much exposure to EtO may cause cancer or other serious health problems. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has had a rule since 1994 that says what companies that use EtO to sterilize medical equipment and devices must do to control how much EtO is put into the air. 

Recent EPA Activities Related to Ethylene Oxide in Tennessee

The Environmental Protection Agency studies pollutants and when they find that recent scientific studies require them to update what they know about a pollutant, they may make a change to the risk numbers they use for that pollutant because those risk numbers help them decide what level of a pollutant in the air would be a risk to human health. This happened in 2016, when an EPA study found EtO, when breathed in at lower levels than we had believed, may cause cancer.  EPA changed its “unit risk of exposure” or URE to be much lower.  This change meant EPA also needed to look at the rule for companies that sterilize medical equipment and devices to see what changes need to be made to protect public health.  In working to update its rule, EPA performed a risk assessment and EPA is now releasing the results of that risk assessment through the press release, linked below, and a webinar that will occur on August 10, 2022 8:00pm-9:30pm (Eastern Time).

Communities Impacted in Tennessee

Specific EtO Questions?

This Page Last Updated: May 16, 2024 at 1:21 PM