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February 12, 2020
Contact: Tom Lalley

Eleven State Attorneys General Push EPA to Strengthen Emissions Standards for Ethylene Oxide

Current rules for commercial sterilization facilities allow tens of thousands of pounds of toxic ethylene oxide gas to be release in communities annually.

Washington, D.C. — A coalition of 11 state attorneys general, led by Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, filed comments this week urging the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to adopt stricter standards for ethylene oxide (EtO) emissions from the more than 100 facilities nationwide that use the gas to sterilize medical instruments and other products. The EPA is more than five years late in conducting a review of technology-based standards for commercial EtO sterilization facilities as required by the Clean Air Act.
In comments responding to an advance notice of proposed rulemaking, the AGs highlight how the EPA’s National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) fail to adequately protect 288,000 Americans across 36 states who face an elevated risk of EtO exposure. Chronic contact with EtO is associated with cancer, reproductive effects and neurotoxicity. The AGs also call on the EPA to work with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to support research into effective alternatives to EtO sterilization.
“Illinois has already acted to significantly reduce EtO emissions, but there is an urgent need for the EPA to strengthen national EtO standards to protect communities throughout the country,” said Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul. “The EPA has a responsibility to protect the health and safety of residents by adequately regulating hazardous air pollutants. I urge the EPA to live up to this responsibility and implement the standards needed to address the severe risks to public health and the environment posed by EtO emissions.”

The AGs’ comments include five core recommendations to the EPA for facilities that use one ton or more ethylene oxide in a 12-month time period:

  • Reduce EtO air emissions at least 99.9 percent from each exhaust point;
  • Capture 100 percent of all “fugitive,” or unintended, EtO emissions;
  • Adopt stricter emissions testing standards that are based on actual operating conditions;
  • Monitor emissions continuously, and;
  • Require each facility to demonstrate that its emission reduction measures reduce the threat to workers and local communities.

The AGs’ comments follow a letter sent to the EPA in October 2019 by a coalition of 16 AGs that was also led by AG Raoul. The letter emphasized that the agency is moving “much too slowly to adopt the regulations needed to protect the public from this carcinogen,” and that, because of the EPA’s inaction, states have acted on their own to require facilities to reduce EtO emissions.



About the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center
The State Energy & Environmental Impact Center (State Impact Center) is a non-partisan Center at the NYU School of Law that is dedicated to helping state attorneys general fight against regulatory rollbacks and advocate for clean energy, climate change, and environmental values and protections. It was launched in August 2017 with support from Bloomberg Philanthropies.
For more information, visit our website