SCAQMD Investigation Finds Ethylene Oxide

A recent investigation conducted by the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) has uncovered alarming levels of ethylene oxide, a cancer-causing gas, in several facilities throughout Southern California. Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn has called for immediate action, including the temporary closure of Sterigenics, a medical device sterilizing plant in Vernon, and the investigation of similar facilities in the region. The findings of the AQMD’s investigation have raised significant concerns about the potential health risks associated with ethylene oxide exposure.

Ethylene oxide, an odorless and colorless gas, is commonly used in the sterilization of medical devices due to its effectiveness against bacteria and other pathogens. However, the toxicity and long-term health effects of ethylene oxide have become a growing concern. Short-term exposure to the gas can lead to symptoms such as headaches, nausea, and respiratory difficulties, while prolonged exposure has been linked to an increased risk of lymphoid and breast cancers.

The AQMD’s investigation primarily focused on Sterigenics in Vernon. Unannounced inspections conducted in April revealed ethylene oxide concentrations that far exceeded safe levels. Workers in the vicinity were found to face a cancer risk four times higher than the regional average. Shockingly, nearly 948,000 people, including 81,710 children under the age of 5, live within a 5-mile radius of the facility, according to data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This highlights the potential scale of the issue and the urgent need for immediate action.

In response to these concerns, Supervisor Hahn has called for the immediate cessation of all ethylene oxide-emitting operations at Sterigenics until the facility achieves compliance with safety standards. Additionally, she has urged the AQMD to expand its investigation to include other facilities emitting ethylene oxide throughout Southern California. The EPA has identified a total of 29 facilities across the country, with five located in California. These include Parter Medical Products in Carson, Steris Inc. in Temecula, and Steris Isomedix Services Inc. in San Diego.

In light of the growing concerns, the EPA has implemented new regulations for medical sterilization companies using ethylene oxide. These regulations require facilities to track their emissions and submit data by 2023. While these measures are a step in the right direction, immediate health risks associated with existing ethylene oxide emissions cannot be overlooked.

To protect themselves and their families, individuals are encouraged to take proactive steps. Regular air testing in homes can provide valuable insights into potential exposure risks and guide necessary precautions. Monitoring for symptoms associated with ethylene oxide exposure, such as respiratory issues or unexplained health problems, is crucial. Seeking medical advice if any concerns arise is strongly recommended. By staying informed about the latest developments and guidelines provided by the AQMD and local health authorities, individuals can take the necessary steps to safeguard their well-being.

As the investigations continue, the AQMD is working closely with Sterigenics to reduce and mitigate ethylene oxide emissions. The agency is also considering inspections of other medical sterilization facilities in the region to assess their compliance with safety standards. Ongoing monitoring and evaluation of these facilities will provide a comprehensive understanding of ethylene oxide exposure in Southern California, helping to ensure the health and safety of the community.

Given the potentially grave consequences associated with ethylene oxide exposure, it is imperative that authorities and the public work together to address this issue promptly. By prioritizing the health and safety of residents, implementing stricter regulations, and raising awareness about the risks, Southern California can mitigate the impact of ethylene oxide emissions and protect the well-being of its communities.