ATTORNEY GENERAL RAOUL URGES EPA TO IMPLEMENT STRICTER ETHYLENE OXIDE EMISSION STANDARDS AND FIND ALTERNATIVES TO ETHYLENE OXIDE STERILIZATION
Chicago — Attorney General Kwame Raoul today led a coalition of 15 attorneys general in urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to promptly propose and finalize stricter standards for ethylene oxide (EtO) emissions and support research into alternatives to EtO sterilization. According to the EPA’s own assessment, EtO is a carcinogen to humans by inhalation and among the most hazardous air pollutants.
In a letter sent to the EPA, Raoul and the coalition argue that the current EPA standard for EtO fails to adequately protect workers and communities and stricter emissions standards are necessary to protect residents nationwide from the harmful effects of EtO. Raoul and the coalition recognize that a critical step in reducing EtO emissions is to reduce the use of EtO, which is why the attorneys general are also calling on the EPA to work with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to support research into effective alternatives to EtO sterilization and end the over-reliance on the practice.
“Illinois has already acted to significantly reduce EtO emissions, but there is an urgent need for the EPA to adopt national restrictions to protect communities throughout the country,” Raoul said. “All families, regardless of where they live, deserve to have confidence that their air is safe to breathe. The EPA has a responsibility to protect the health and safety of residents across the country by regulating hazardous air pollutants. I urge the EPA to live up to this responsibility and implement the standards needed to protect all residents from the risks posed by EtO emissions.”
Commercial sterilization facilities are a major source of EtO emissions across the nation. Emissions from these facilities are subject to a National Emissions Standard for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP), which the EPA is required to review every eight years. The EPA last reviewed the NESHAP for commercial sterilizers in 2006 and failed to make any meaningful changes. In 2001, the EPA ended the requirement that facilities control emissions from the back vents of the chambers used to conduct EtO sterilization. As a result of this step backward, thousands of pounds of EtO escape out of these vents and into the ambient air annually, in addition to the tens of thousands of pounds of EtO the current NESHAP allows commercial sterilizers to release into communities annually.
Over 288,000 people live in areas across the country that the EPA identified to be at elevated risk of EtO exposure, and there are more than 100 commercial sterilization facilities subject to the nationwide EtO standard. These facilities are located in 36 states, including Illinois. Because the EPA has not updated the national standard to reflect current science, states have been required to step in and reevaluate the emissions standard for EtO, leading to a dramatic reduction in EtO emissions in those areas.
Attorney General Raoul has been an advocate for stricter limits on EtO emissions. Illinois recently passed the nation’s strictest limits on ethylene oxide emissions from sterilization facilities. EtO-emitting sterilization facilities are prohibited from operating in Illinois unless the facility captures 100 percent of all EtO emissions generated by the facility. Additionally, these facilities must reduce EtO emissions to the atmosphere from each exhaust point by at least 99.9 percent, or to no more than 0.2 parts per million. The law also requires facilities to conduct annual emissions tests and submit results to the Illinois EPA. If a facility fails to meet the reduced emissions requirements, it must immediately cease operations. In 2018, the Attorney General’s office filed a lawsuit against Sterigenics over toxic air pollution violations due to the release of EtO at its Willowbrook, Ill. plant. In September, Attorney General Raoul and DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin obtained a court-enforced order that prevented Sterigenics from reopening unless and until it could meet the stringent new standards. Earlier this month, Sterigenics announced that it will permanently close its Willowbrook plant.
Joining Raoul in the letter are the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin.