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LETTER: Reader disapproves ethylene oxide guest editorial

Dear Editor:

The article “Truth about ethylene oxide” written by pro-industry authors Ms. Goethe and Mr. Whitaker contains many broad statements but very little in the way of actual useful facts for the public to be informed about the truth around ethylene oxide (EtO). Here are some facts to counter their so-called facts.

While medical device sterilizers may only utilize < 1% of commercial EtO, they are actually responsible for 30% of EtO emissions (source: EPA). Interesting they left that out, wonder why?

They lob statements without context by claiming that EtO comes from all over from sources such as lawn mowers, diesel engines and gas grills. AdvaMed (Mr. Whitaker’s pro-industry group) funded a study looking at supposed “everyday sources of EtO.” What they leave out is that in order to approximate one days’ output from the BD Covington facility (2 pounds EtO/day), we would need to cold start approximately 30,000 lawnmowers at once ... in the same spot. If that seems ludicrous, it should. They also leave out that diesel engine emission standards were changed by the law in 2010 and studies on diesel emission reports have not shown any EtO produced from this source.

One of the telltale signs of a pro-industry piece is the legendary claim that “our own bodies create EtO” as if we should all be able to bathe in EtO and be fine since it is so natural in our bodies. It is sort of like stating that because our livers can process alcohol, all alcohol is safe. In small amounts, yes, in larger amounts, no. It is the same with EtO except nobody really knows what, if any, EtO is produced at the human body level but we do know how much EtO is considered unsafe for human exposure and these facilities are exceeding those limits. In addition, whatever natural EtO is produced in our bodies is non-toxic as opposed to, you know, the toxic emissions produced by sterilizers.

They also mention that the EPA is looking into EtO levels in ambient air and that it found levels of EtO more broadly than originally understood. True. What I would counter is that if you look very specifically at the monitoring done in Willowbrook, Il at the Sterigenics facility when it was open and then shut down. The results overwhelmingly showed that the amount of EtO in the air drastically reduced (by approx. 95%) when the facility was shut down (source: EPA). We are concerned with known sources of EtO that are increasing concentrations in ambient risk and, therefore, risk to human health.

The industry is currently fighting very hard to maintain their ability to self-report emissions. Keep in mind that all data we have from commercial sterilizers comes from self-reporting. Additional fun fact: self-reporting is based on mathematical calculations and not any kind of actual monitoring. The BD Bard facility in Covington self-reported EtO emissions of 20,206 pounds in 2003; 6,803 pounds in 2013; and 693 pounds in 2014 with pretty amazingly similar levels every year since (source: EPA). Was there some huge improvement in technology? No! 2014 is also (total coincidence I’m sure) the time frame of the National Air Toxics Assessment (NATA) which spurred this whole issue of elevated EtO exposure. So, we have 2014 self-reported emission data decreasing by almost an order of magnitude at the same time of a significant review by the EPA around this very gas. Very interesting indeed.

Does anyone else have a problem with companies who profit off of utilizing carcinogens and emit carcinogens into the air being the ones who are charged with monitoring and reporting the same emissions? Not only that they don’t actually have to monitor them, they need only calculate them? We as a citizenry should, at a minimum, demand that self-reporting is a non-starter. These companies should pay for, and the Georgia EPD should be responsible for, independent testing not just at the stack but ongoing real-time fence line monitoring around the BD Bard facilities in Covington and Madison. In addition, there should be additional monitoring at any facility utilized to store EtO sterilized product to accurately measure fugitive emissions. Ms. Goethe and Mr. Whitaker claim that the industry has been looking into alternatives for years but the truth is that alternatives to EtO will take investment and may increase prices. That could potentially mean less profits and that is not something that is high on their priority list.

Now I will admit my bias here (unlike Ms. Goethe and Mr. Whitaker) as I am part of a group of concerned citizens. Say no to EtO Georgia, who believe that EtO related businesses have no place near any populations. We believe simply that cancer is bad and no level of EtO exposure should be acceptable.

Jason McCarthy