A new comment from the EPA Office of Inspector General dated March 31, 2020 calls on the EPA to better inform the affected communities of the dangers of ethylene oxide (“EtO”).
A memorandum contained in the released comment is titled, “Management Alert: Prompt Action Needed to Inform Residents Living Near Ethylene Oxide-Emitting Facilities About Health Concerns and Actions to Address Those Concerns Report No. 20-N-0128.” The paper goes on to explain the dangers of EtO that the EPA finally addressed in 2016.
“The EPA increased the cancer risk value for ethylene oxide in December 2016 based on studies from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The EPA found the chemical to be 30 times more carcinogenic to adults than previously thought, and the Agency revised ethylene oxide’s carcinogenic description from ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’ to ‘carcinogenic to humans.’” This comment by the EPA OIG pertains to the communication of this message. It is important to note that this information about the life-threatening danger of EtO was never given a press conference, nor an alert of the media. Instead, it was rather buried amidst thousands of other papers by the EPA and received no attention at the time.
The OIG comment goes on to describe the dangers of EtO to people exposed. “Studies show that breathing air containing elevated ethylene oxide levels over many years increases the risk of developing lymphoid cancers in males and females and breast cancer in females. For a single year of exposure to ethylene oxide, the risk of developing cancer is greater for children than for adults. This is because ethylene oxide can damage deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, which is the hereditary material in humans (emphasis added).”
After making clear the extreme dangers of EtO, the report explains what efforts the EPA has already made to communicate to neighborhoods that are located near EtO facilities like Sterigenics in Smyrna and Becton Dickinson Bard in Covington. All of these areas have heightened levels of cancer, which may relate to EtO plants and factories. The report goes on to demand more communication with these areas. “We recommend that the Agency provide residents in all communities near the 25 high-priority ethylene oxide-emitting facilities with a forum for an interactive exchange of information with EPA or state personnel regarding health concerns related to exposure to ethylene oxide.”
However, the demand for more ‘town hall’ meetings in the time of the coronavirus pandemic is contrary to stay at home and shelter in place orders by state and local governments. Both the EPA and their OIG office need to propose more modern and conducive ways to get the message out about the dangers of EtO to local exposed areas. Even if town halls were an option, those would not be enough to engage and educate families who are living in a cancer cluster. Residents in these cancer clusters so close to EtO plants and factories should also be contacted directly through phone and mail, as well as have recurring meetings with FAQs addressed and Q&A sessions with experts. EPA has an obligation to monitor, test and audit the number of emissions, the health of nearby residents and ambient levels of EtO in the air residents breathe.
Read the entire report here.