EPA Affirms Science-Based Cancer Risk Value for Ethylene Oxide

Fenceline communities are exposed to these carcinogens every day


Zahra Ahmad, zahmad@earthjustice.org, (517) 898-0924

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has affirmed its science-based cancer risk value on the toxicity of ethylene oxide by finalizing its reconsideration of the Miscellaneous Organic Chemical Manufacturing (MON) rule on Dec. 14. This action is critical for communities that neighbor ethylene oxide-emitting facilities and are waiting on stronger EPA action.

The agency reaffirmed the MON rule in response to petitions from Texas and industry groups requesting that EPA use Texas’s weaker cancer risk value. The MON rule regulates industrial facilities that emit dangerous air pollutants like ethylene oxide as a byproduct of producing solvents, plastics, and pesticides. While these facilities can be found throughout the U.S., they are mainly concentrated in Black, Latino, and low-income communities in Texas and Louisiana.

“EPA’s new rule affirms that ethylene oxide is a highly potent carcinogen pollutant and maintains critical health protections for fenceline communities,” said Kathleen Riley, Earthjustice attorney. “But EPA still has work to do. The agency must take quick action to reduce cancer risk from other facilities that emit ethylene oxide emissions, like chemical manufacturers and sterilizers, by ensuring that emission limits always apply — without loopholes for malfunctions — and by requiring fenceline monitoring.”

EPA has not yet acted on environmental and community groups’ petitions to close emissions loopholes and require fenceline monitoring. The MON rule currently includes loopholes that allow facilities to spew unlimited amounts of ethylene oxide if the emissions happen during certain foreseeable events like storms, loss of power, or severe weather (so-called “force majeure” events). These loopholes expose communities prone to extreme weather events, like those on the Gulf Coast, to dangerous ethylene oxide emissions. EPA must also require facilities to monitor air pollution at the fenceline to protect neighboring communities.

Earthjustice represents community, scientists, environmental, and environmental justice groups in litigation over the air toxics emission standards for chemical manufacturers, including those that emit ethylene oxide. Groups include RISE St. James, Louisiana Environmental Action Network, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, TX Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (t.e.j.a.s.), Air Alliance Houston, Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform, Union of Concerned Scientists, and the Sierra Club. The Environmental Integrity Project is also part of this challenge.

Quotes from our clients: 

We applaud the EPA’s decision to protect public health instead of polluters. Here in Texas, the state agency tasked with protecting Texans from carcinogens like ethylene oxide has been effectively held hostage to industry interests for too long,” said Jennifer Hadayia, Executive DIrector of Air Alliance Houston. “Now that this roadblock has passed, we hope the EPA will quickly address ethylene oxide in Texas through education and engagement with impacted communities and workers, localized air monitoring programs to accurately assess the risk of ethylene oxide, and strong final rules resulting in immediate reductions in ethylene oxide emissions across all industries.  

“The EPA decision to use IRIS value for ethylene oxide and reject the TCEQ’s risk value is critical to help community members living on the fencelines of industrial facilities in Louisiana and Texas to hopefully have their ambient air concentrations of ethylene oxide reduced,” said Wilma Subra, Louisiana Environmental Action Network.

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