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Attorney General Nessel Urges EPA to Strengthen National Emission Standards for Ethylene Oxide

LANSING – Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel joined a coalition of 10 attorneys general this month in urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to adopt stricter national emission standards for ethylene oxide (EtO). According to the EPA’s own assessment, EtO – which is used for commercial sterilization—is a known human carcinogen and among the most hazardous air pollutants. Michigan is home to one such sterilization facility: Centurion in Williamston.

In its comment letter, the coalition argues the EPA’s current National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) fail to adequately protect workers and communities from the harmful effects of EtO. The attorneys general also call on the EPA to work with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to support research into effective alternatives to EtO sterilization and end over-reliance on the practice.

“The safety of our air is more than enough reason to encourage the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to adopt stricter emission standards for ethylene oxide,” Nessel said. “This is a national issue and it is important we work swiftly and in a bipartisan fashion so all residents can breathe clean air.”

Commercial sterilization facilities are a major source of EtO emissions across the nation. Emissions from these facilities are subject to the NESHAP, which the EPA is required to review every eight years. The EPA last reviewed the NESHAP for commercial sterilizers in 2006 and failed to make any meaningful changes. The current NESHAP allows commercial sterilizers to release tens of thousands of pounds of EtO into communities annually.

The coalition proposes the EPA make several changes to the NESHAP to reduce EtO emissions from commercial sterilization facilities. Along with extending the NESHAP to include facilities that use one ton or more of EtO in any consecutive 12-month period, the revised NESHAP should require that commercial sterilization facilities:

  • Reduce emissions to the atmosphere from each exhaust point by at least 99.9 percent;
  • Capture 100 percent of all generated EtO emissions;
  • Conduct all required emissions testing under operating conditions that are representative of maximum emissions;
  • Install, operate, calibrate and maintain a continuous emissions monitoring system; and
  • Submit dispersion modeling that demonstrates EtO emissions achieve the emissions reductions necessary to protect human health.

Nearly 300,000 people live in areas across the country that the EPA identified to be at elevated risk of EtO exposure, and there are more than 100 commercial sterilization facilities subject to the NESHAP. These facilities are located in 36 states, including the one in Michigan. Because the EPA has not updated the NESHAP to reflect current science, states have been required to step in and regulate EtO, which will dramatically reduce EtO emissions in those areas when implemented.

Nessel joins the attorneys general of Delaware, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont in signing the comment letter.

A copy of the comment letter is available here.