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*Comment Period* Nurse Input Needed on Updated EPA Regulations for Sterilizing Agent Ethylene Oxide

April 11, 2023





Jessica Mengistab

Program Manager, Climate & Clean Energy Advocacy

Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments

(732) 336-1606


*Comment Period* 

Nurse Input Needed on Updated EPA Regulations for Sterilizing Agent Ethylene Oxide

Washington, D.C.– Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued 2 additional proposals which, combined with last week’s proposal, aim to reduce risk to ethylene oxide (EtO) emissions in communities and for workers. Last week’s proposed regulation seeks to update several rules of the Clean Air Act to reduce EtO emissions from chemical plants with a goal of reducing 6,053 tons of air toxics per year.


EPA’s announcement this morning includes proposed regulations to reduce EtO Emissions from commercial EtO sterilizers and proposed regulations to reduce risk to workers in the sterilization industry. EPA’s proposed regulations set strengthened emission standards for the 86 commercial sterilizers that are currently operating across the country as well as for new sterilizers.  If finalized, these requirements will reduce the amount of EtO that comes out of commercial sterilizers by 80 percent, reducing carcinogenic toxin exposure in nearby communities to levels below the Clean Air Act benchmark for elevated risk. 


In August 2022, EPA completed an analysis that showed that ethylene oxide (EtO) emissions from some commercial sterilizers in the U.S. contribute to elevated cancer risk for people living in nearby communities. Over the course of a lifetime EtO, at concentrations expected to be found near some commercial sterilizers, can increase a person’s risk of developing cancer to at or above 100 in one million. Stronger limitations of fugitive EtO under the Clean Air Act are both necessary and long overdue for protecting workers in sterilization facilities as well as adjacent communities. New protections being proposed to reduce risk for all workers who use EtO to sterilize, and for communities near these sterilization facilities, may also lead to introduction of alternative sterilizing agents with potentially less harmful side effects. 


Executive Director of the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments Katie Huffling, DNP, RN, CNM, FAAN issued the following statement: “We know there are safer alternatives for sterilizing medical equipment than using EtO. These proposed regulations will improve the health of communities nationwide. As nurses, we will be calling on EPA to move forward with the strongest emission standards as possible. Further, nurses must make sure that we are not contributing to health problems in the patients and communities we serve. With the comment period beginning within the next month, we call on nurses to make your voices heard. ” 


EPA will host a public webinar on May 1, 2023, at 8:00 pm ET to discuss these proposals. Members of the public can preregister here. For more information on EtO sources and risks to health, you can visit the EPA’s website.


The Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments is the only national nursing organization focused solely on the intersection of health and the environment. The mission of the Alliance is to promote healthy people and healthy environments by educating and leading the nursing profession, advancing research, incorporating evidence-based practice, and influencing policy.