© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Signage is seen at the headquarters of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Washington, D.C., U.S., May 10, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/File Photo
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Biden administration on Tuesday proposed new health protections to reduce exposure of U.S. workers and communities to ethylene oxide, a toxic, colorless gas mainly used to sterilize medical equipment and spices.
The Environmental Protection Agency issued a proposed rule with new requirements at 86 sterilizer facilities across the country, that if finalized, aims to reduce ethylene oxide (EtO) emissions by 80%.
Long-term exposure to EtO can have health implications, including certain cancers, studies say. The proposed rule is part of President Joe Biden’s initiative to cut the death rate from cancer and create new treatments to fight it.
“At EPA, we recognize that ensuring that all people have clean air to breathe is not just an important responsibility and our job under the law, but it’s also a moral imperative,” Janet McCabe, the agency’s deputy administrator, told reporters in a teleconference.
The rules aim to reduce use of EtO at the facilities to 500 milligrams per liter (about a half teaspoon per quarter gallon) while working with the Food and Drug Administration to make sure all sterility requirements are met. An EPA official told reporters that some facilities have already reduced use of EtO to appropriate levels while others use up to twice the proposed amount.
The agency also proposed prohibiting certain uses of EtO where it is used to a lesser extent and alternatives exist, including in museums, archives, beekeeping, cosmetics and musical instruments.
The proposed rule will be open for a 60-day public comment period and the EPA aims to finalize it in 2024.