How is ethylene oxide regulated for worker safety?
OSHA has set exposure limits for employees working in facilities where ethylene oxide gas is present. In addition, employers must provide appropriate protective clothing and equipment to employees who may be exposed to ethylene oxide. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) also provide guidance for industrial exposure to ethylene oxide.
Is the general population exposed to ethylene oxide?
Ethylene oxide is present in the environment and is created by various sources, including vehicle exhaust, plants and cigarette smoke. The human body also creates ethylene oxide. Exposure to ethylene oxide varies across urban, suburban and rural environments.
Ethylene oxide emissions from industrial manufacturing and other applications are strictly regulated under federal and in some cases state and local laws.
Can ethylene oxide cause cancer?
Any potential association between ethylene oxide and cancer is linked only to chronic exposure. There is minimal cancer risk for the general population because most people are not exposed to significant quantities of ethylene oxide.
Is it true that the EPA has warned there is an elevated risk of cancer due to EO exposure levels?
In 2016, the EPA Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) program released an updated cancer value based on modeling.
A number of independent reviews have raised substantive and serious concerns about EPA’s IRIS program and its findings. For instance, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has said that, ‘the USEPA unit risk factor for ethylene oxide is not scientifically justified.’
In 2011, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) also criticized IRIS assessments for their poor scientific quality – a result of the IRIS program’s unnecessary reliance on overly conservative and default assumptions in its modeling and outdated scientific information. Additionally, two EPA Science Advisory Boards outlined similar and additional issues with the EO IRIS assessment.
The EO assessment also includes errors in modeling historical exposures to EO, resulting in a value that is based on selective science and results in an overly conservative cancer value. In fact, the EO cancer value derived from EPA’s modeling is 19,000 times lower than the normal, naturally-created levels of EO in the human body.