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EPA: Jackson Twp. plant poses cancer risk

The Environmental Protection Agency is warning residents in 13 states and Puerto Rico about potential health risks from emissions of ethylene oxide, a chemical widely used to sterilize medical equipment and decontaminate spices. Associated Press

American Contract Systems, a business with a facility in Jackson Township, is among companies in 13 states whose emissions of ethylene oxide pose a health risk to their communities, according to a study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The medical sterilization plant, located at Jackson’s Pointe Commerce Park, 4050 Jackson Pointe Court, could possibly affect people with emissions from ethylene oxide, according to EPA’s website.

A representative from the corporate office of American Contract Systems in Minnesota was unavailable for comment Wednesday.

“A lifetime cancer risk of 100 in a million means that, if 1 million people were exposed to this level of (ethylene oxide) in the air 24 hours a day for 70 years, 100 people would be expected to develop cancer from that exposure,” the EPA’s website said.

The Environmental Protection Agency is warning residents who live near medical sterilizing plants in those states and Puerto Rico about potential health risks from emissions of ethylene oxide, a chemical widely used in their operations.

The agency has notified 23 commercial sterilizers — 19 in the continental U.S. and four in Puerto Rico — that their operations pose an elevated risk of cancer and other ailments. The notice follows a recent survey of emissions data from almost 100 commercial sterilizers nationwide.

Ethylene oxide is used to clean everything from catheters to syringes, pacemakers and plastic surgical gowns.

While short-term or infrequent exposure to ethylene oxide does not appear to pose a health risk, EPA said long-term or lifetime exposure to the chemical could lead to a variety of health impacts, including lymphoma and breast cancer. EPA said it is working with commercial sterilizers to take appropriate steps to reduce emissions.

“Today, EPA is taking action to ensure communities are informed and engaged in our efforts to address ethylene oxide, a potent air toxic posing serious health risks with long-term exposure,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement Wednesday.

EPA will conduct public outreach campaigns in each of the communities where elevated risks have been found, including an Aug. 10 webinar. More than half the sites on EPA's watch list are in predominantly minority or low-income communities.

The Ethylene Oxide Sterilization Association, an industry group, said in a statement that ethylene oxide has been used for decades by the health care community to sterilize a wide variety of medical devices and equipment. More than 20 billion health care products are sterilized each year in the U.S. alone.

In many cases. there are no practical alternatives currently available to ethylene oxide, the group said, adding that use of less effective cleaning methods "could introduce the real risks of increased morbidity and mortality'' at hospitals throughout the country.

EPA called medical sterilization “a critical function that ensures a safe supply of medical devices for patients and hospitals.'' The agency said it is committed to addressing pollution concerns associated with EO, sometimes called EtO, "in a comprehensive way that ensures facilities can operate safely in communities while also providing sterilized medical supplies.''

Proposed rules to update control of air toxic emissions from commercial sterilizers and facilities that manufacture EtO are expected by the end of the year, with final rules likely next year, EPA said.

Besides medical cleansers, EtO is used in a range of products, including antifreeze, textiles, plastics, detergents and adhesives. It also used to decontaminate some food products and spices. Two of the 23 facilities targeted by EPA — in Hanover and Jessup, Maryland — are used to sterilize spices. Both are operated by Jessup-based Elite Spice.

Other commercial sterilizers cited by EPA are located in Groveland, Fla.; Salisbury, Md.; Taunton, Mass.; Columbus, Nebraska; Linden and Franklin, New Jersey; Erie, Pa.; Memphis and New Tazewell, Tenn.; Athens, Texas; Sandy, Utah; and Richmond, Virginia.

Four plants are in Puerto Rico: Anasco, Fajardo, Salinas and Villalba.

Molly Miller, Eagle staff writer, contributed to this article.

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