Protect communities and workers from this toxic pollutant


Supporters spoke up in this action

Delivery to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Action ended on July 7, 2023

What Happens Next

Thank you to all who took action! We’re grateful for your support.

What Was At Stake

More than 14 million people in the United States live near facilities emitting cancer-causing ethylene oxide pollution. Ethylene oxide is a flammable colorless gas that companies use to make plastics, household cleaners, personal care items, and fabrics. Companies also use ethylene oxide to sterilize medical equipment and products such as culinary spices. Tell the EPA it’s time to protect people from ethylene oxide.

Ethylene oxide is a highly toxic pollutant and potent carcinogen. People exposed to ethylene oxide can experience convulsions, blisters, vomiting, and other symptoms. Longer-term exposure leads to breast, lymphoid, and other cancers, and damage to critical bodily functions.

In recent months, grassroots activism and Earthjustice legal work secured several key proposals that would use the Clean Air Act to protect people from exposure to ethylene oxide from commercial sterilizers, petrochemical facilities, and other sources. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also proposed new restrictions under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act that would prohibit certain uses of ethylene oxide and protect workers who are exposed to ethylene oxide on the job through sterilization.

We need your help to ensure that the new rules are as strong as possible. Tell the EPA to implement the strongest possible protections for people exposed to this toxic pollutant.

Ethylene oxide-emitting facilities are disproportionately located in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, many of which already grapple with elevated toxic exposure and health risks from multiple industrial polluters. These facilities can be highly concentrated in a handful of areas, so multiple polluters can expose people to cancerous ethylene oxide.

Nearly two-thirds of the petrochemical facilities are in Texas and Louisiana. Sterilizer facilities, on the other hand, are found nationwide, but there are 12 metro areas in the U.S. that have two or more sterilizers within 10 miles of each other.

The EPA is starting to address the nation’s ethylene oxide problem, but these proposals are still too weak and don’t fully protect people from the chemical’s life-threatening impacts. The agency did not propose including fenceline monitoring in all the proposals. The agency also fell short of phasing out ethylene oxide’s use in food products. Finally, the EPA did not propose any protections for the communities surrounding warehouses storing ethylene oxide sterilized equipment, which also emit the pollutant.

It’s time for the EPA to finally address this potent carcinogen: the agency must put people’s health and safety above industries’ profiting from ethylene oxide’s production and use by passing the strongest regulations possible.

It’s an easy answer for us — so we hope you’ll join us in calling on the EPA to strengthen its proposed actions as much as feasible.

Shell Convent refinery in St. James Parish, Louisiana.
Shell Convent refinery in St. James Parish, Louisiana. (Alejandro Dávila Fragoso / Earthjustice)

Your Actions Matter

Your messages make a difference, even if we have leaders who don't want to listen. Here's why.

You level the playing field.

Elected officials pay attention when they see that we are paying attention. Read more.

They may be hearing from industry lobbyists left and right, but hearing the stories of their constituents — that’s your power.

Our legislators serve at the pleasure of the people who gave them their job — you.

Make sure your elected officials know whose community and whose values they represent. When you contact your elected official, you’re putting a face and a name on an issue.

Whether or not you voted for them, they work for you, for the duration of their term.

Make sure your elected officials know whose community and whose values they represent. (Find your local, state, and federal elected officials.)

Your action is with us in court.

If a federal agency finalizes a harmful action, the record of public comments provides a basis for bringing them into court. Read more.

Throughout each of the public comment periods we alert you to, Earthjustice’s attorneys are researching and writing in-depth, technical comments to submit — detailing how the regulation could and should be stronger to protect the environment, our communities, and our planet.

We need you to join us — your specific experiences, knowledge, and voice are crucial to add to the Administrative Record through the comment periods.

Lawsuits we file that challenge weak or harmful federal regulations rely on what was submitted during the comment period. The court can only look at documents that are in the Administrative Record — including the public comments — to decide if the agency did something improper.

Your actions aid our litigation. Taking action and submitting comments during a comment period is substantively important.

It’s the law.

Federal agencies must pause what they’re doing and ask for — and consider — your comment. Read more.

Many of us may have never heard of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), but laws like these require our government to ask the public to weigh in before agencies adopt or change regulations.

Regulations essentially describe how federal agencies will carry out laws — including decisions that could undermine science, or weaken safeguards on public health.

Public comments are collected at various points throughout the federal government’s rulemaking process, including when a regulation is proposed and finalized. (Learn about the rulemaking process.) These comments become part of the official, legal public record — the “Administrative Record.”

When the public responds with a huge outpouring of support for environmental protections, these individual messages collectively undercut politicians' attempts to claim otherwise.

What this means is each of us can take a role in shaping the rules our government creates — and ensuring those rules are fair and effective.