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On Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed new limits on the use of a carcinogenic gas called ethylene oxide. The hope is to reduce ethylene oxide emissions by 80%, which the agency said is part of the Biden administration’s Cancer Moonshot and its “commitment to securing environmental justice and protecting public health.”

The actions consist of two rules: one aimed at forcing sterilizing facilities that use ethylene oxide to cut down on their emissions, and another aimed at protecting workers and communities who are most vulnerable to exposure.


Ethylene oxide is currently the only way to sterilize medical devices that can’t be exposed to steam. It’s used to sanitize 20 billion devices in the U.S. per year, such as pacemakers, catheters, and ventilators, and is also used to sterilize spices. But the gas is also known to induce gene mutations and break chromosomes. Long-term exposure to this gas causes breast cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, myeloma, and lymphocytic leukemia. The new rules would affect 86 sterilizing facilities nationwide.

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