Chicago – Attorney General Kwame Raoul led a coalition of 13 attorneys general urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to protect public health and the environment from risks posed by ethylene oxide (EtO) emissions from commercial sterilization facilities.
Raoul and the attorneys general submitted a comment letter to the EPA supporting the agency’s proposed amendments to EtO standards under the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) program. The coalition urged the EPA to promptly adopt the proposed changes.
“Illinois has already acted to significantly reduce EtO emissions, but there is an urgent need for the EPA to strengthen national EtO standards to protect communities throughout the country,” Raoul said. “I am proud to lead my fellow attorneys general in support of the EPA’s proposed standards to address the severe risks to public health and the environment posed by EtO emissions.”
According to the EPA’s own assessment, EtO is a known human carcinogen and among the most hazardous air pollutants. EPA analysis has also found that commercial sterilizers emitting EtO disproportionately impose adverse health effects on communities of color, low-income populations and indigenous peoples.
In their letter, Raoul and the attorneys general assert that the existing EtO standards fail to adequately protect workers and communities from ethylene oxide, for which acute exposure risks include respiratory irritation, lung injury, nausea, shortness of breath and cyanosis, a decreased oxygen level in the blood.
The EPA’s proposed amendments would strengthen the limits on EtO emissions from commercial sterilizers by limiting emissions from sources that are currently not regulated and increasing the stringency of limits on other emissions sources already regulated under the existing rules. The new standards also provide for enhanced emissions monitoring requirements to help ensure that facilities are meeting the applicable standards.
In addition to supporting the proposed changes to EtO standards, Raoul and the attorneys general offered recommendations to further strengthen the proposal, informed by several states’ experiences regulating commercial sterilizers. These recommendations include requiring monitoring for emissions around the perimeter of properties using EtO, evaluating the potential harms of emissions released from warehouses and other storage sites holding items sterilized by EtO, and increasing transparency to the public about such storage sites.
The attorneys general also urge the EPA to consider requiring that facilities use both control technology designed to control emissions and pollution-reduction management practices simultaneously, rather than evaluating these options separately.
This comment letter follows a February 2020 letter to the EPA led by Raoul calling for an update to the current emission standards for EtO. Raoul also led a coalition advocating for stronger federal regulation of EtO emissions in 2019.
Attorney General Raoul has been an advocate for stricter limits on EtO emissions. Illinois passed the Matt Haller Act, the nation’s strictest limits on EtO emissions from sterilization facilities, which was signed into law in 2019. Sterilization facilities are prohibited from operating in Illinois unless the facility captures 100% of all EtO emissions and meets reduced emissions requirements. The requirements of the Haller Act far exceed the requirements of current federal regulations. Under the Haller Act, if a facility fails to meet the reduced emissions requirements, it must immediately cease operations. In 2018, the Attorney General’s office filed a lawsuit against Sterigenics alleging air pollution violations due to the release of EtO at its Willowbrook, Illinois plant.
In 2019, Attorney General Raoul and DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin obtained a court-enforced order that prevented Sterigenics from reopening unless and until it could meet stringent standards. Sterigenics has since permanently closed its Willowbrook plant.
Joining Raoul in submitting the letter are the attorneys general of Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin.