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What workers need to know about new Ethylene Oxide rules

On Behalf of | Apr 8, 2024 | Firm News

Ethylene Oxide (EtO) is a colorless, usually odorless gas that can affect air quality near industrial facilities. Workers and community members could end up exposed to EtO because of a nearby plant that makes chemicals or chemical-based products, like plastics or antifreeze. EtO is also a sterilization agent used on certain types of medical equipment.

While the medical uses of EtO are important, as there are no viable alternatives, there is concern about its use. EtO is a human carcinogen for those with regular exposure over extended periods. Those who breathe in EtO due to workplace exposure could be at risk of cancers of the blood. Women exposed may also have an increased risk of breast cancer.

Recently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced new rules to limit the use of EtO. What are the two new rules that could protect those exposed to this dangerous chemical?

Reducing chemical plant pollution

The EPA intends to update the Clean Air Act to address EtO and other dangerous synthetic organic compounds. Production facilities manufacturing chemicals are subject to these new rules, as well as those that make polymers and resins.

Facilities must have new pollution controls to reduce the chemicals that they release into the air. Experts predict that limits on the release of EtO emissions could lead to 58 fewer tons of EtO released into the air each year. The EPA estimates a 63% reduction by 2020 if proper enforcement of the rule occurs.

Protecting the workers sterilizing equipment

As previously mentioned, there are certain types of medical equipment for which no other protocols exist other than using EtO for sterilization. Therefore, the EPA has created new mitigation measures to protect workers who sterilize products and equipment, as well as those who live near sterilization facilities.

Whenever an alternative chemical is available, companies should not use EtO. The EPA may also implement a stricter limit to the amount of EtO used to sterilize. Sterilization facilities may require emissions capture technology and automation to prevent human exposure. Finally, there are new requirements for personal protective equipment if workers could experience exposure to EtO through the course of their work.

Ideally, these new rules will reduce the number of people sickened by this dangerous compound. Yet, workers and community members will still need to pursue personal injury lawsuits in cases where previous chemical exposure has caused cancer or other maladies. People familiar with this kind of law may more quickly recognize when an actionable violation has occurred.