Protect communities and workers from this toxic pollutant

What's 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.

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, 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)

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