EPA hosted a virtual Lakewood community meeting on Sept. 22, 2022. EPA presented their 2022 ethylene oxide risk modeling analysis for the Terumo BCT Sterilization Services facility. This map outlines the area EPA estimates to have greater than 100 in a million estimated lifetime cancer risk from breathing air containing ethylene oxide from the facility. This estimate is a worst-case scenario based on an individual breathing outdoor air 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 70 years. Actual risk depends on how close people are, how much ethylene oxide they breathe, and how long they are in this area. These estimates cannot predict whether an individual person will develop cancer, but indicate an elevated risk based on the exposure outlined above.
Terumo BCT is a company that makes medical devices and has been operating in Lakewood since 2001. Like other companies that do this work, it uses ethylene oxide to sterilize medical devices made of plastics, polymers, metals, and glass that cannot withstand the high heat and moisture of steam sterilization. Examples of such devices include catheters, resuscitation bags, and anesthesia masks.
Air monitoring and health impacts studies
What the health impacts study found
Ethylene oxide is a chemical used to sterilize heat-sensitive medical equipment. Ethylene oxide also is used when making antifreeze, textiles, detergents and other products, and to disinfect spices and tobacco products.
Employees of facilities using ethylene oxide may be exposed to it in the workplace. People who live near a source of ethylene oxide, such as Terumo BCT, may breathe it in from the air. It is very difficult to measure ethylene oxide at low levels, this means we don’t know much about the actual levels in air far from known sources.
The studies about ethylene oxide are about people who work with the chemical and who are exposed to it at much higher levels than are found in the air outside. Studies about workers exposed to ethylene oxide show an increased risk of blood cancers (Hodgkin’s lymphoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, multiple myeloma and lymphocytic leukemia) and female breast cancer. Cancer risk for workers increased with higher exposure concentrations and more years of exposure time.
Studies about workers exposed to ethylene oxide show breathing high levels of it over months or years (chronic/long-term exposure) may cause irritation of the eyes, skin, nose, mouth, and throat. It also may affect the nervous system, leading to headaches, nausea, vomiting, memory loss, and numbness. Breathing it at even higher levels for shorter periods (acute/short-term exposure) may result in similar, but more severe, impacts. There also is some evidence that higher exposures to ethylene oxide may increase the risk of miscarriage.
Children are expected to be more susceptible to the health effects of ethylene oxide. This is because ethylene oxide can damage DNA.
More about ethylene oxide from EPA
More about ethylene oxide from CDC
In this case, it means that someone exposed to ethylene oxide over many years (a lifetime of exposure) has a slightly increased risk of developing cancer as compared to someone not exposed to ethylene oxide. There are many other factors that can lead to cancer, including heredity and lifestyle choices. There is some risk of cancer the EPA considers “acceptable.” Up to 100 additional cases of cancer in a million people is within the EPA’s acceptable range.
There are many other factors that can lead to cancer, including heredity and lifestyle choices. In Colorado, 1 in 2 men and 2 in 5 women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. There are steps people can take to lower their overall cancer risk.
The National Air Toxics Assessment (NATA) was a screening tool intended to help EPA and state, local and tribal air agencies determine if areas, pollutants, or types of pollution sources should be examined further to better understand potential risks to public health. NATA results are based on computer modeling.
In 2022, EPA replaced NATA with a similar screening tool, AirToxScreen.
EPA is reviewing its current air regulations that limit the amount of ethylene oxide certain types of industries release into the outdoor air to determine whether legal standards for ethylene oxide emissions to air can be further strengthened. EPA also is working with state, local, and tribal air agency partners, and with companies, to identify opportunities to reduce emissions faster than national regulations can achieve.
Cancer is not a single disease, but a group of more than 100 different diseases that share some characteristics. Cancer is common; it is the second leading cause of death in the United States. We recommend people don’t smoke or use tobacco and don’t drink too much alcohol. Limiting time in the sun, increasing exercise, maintaining a recommended body weight, eating a healthy diet, and getting screened for cancer also will reduce your risks.
- If you or your family are concerned about your health or have symptoms you think are caused by exposure to ethylene oxide, discuss these concerns with your health care provider.
- Community members in the area around Terumo BCT who want more information about exposure to ethylene oxide can call the state health department’s ToxCall line at 303-692-2606 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org