Ethylene Oxide, what’s all the fuss?

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Here at Austin Air we are often asked ‘Do your air purifiers remove chemicals? Can they deal with VOC’s? These are questions we answer ‘YES’ to every day. We have been manufacturing air purifiers for a long time. We know our customers and are familiar with their concerns. So, when we started to receive lots of questions about Ethylene Oxide, alarm bells began to ring. Our air purifiers will effectively remove this particular contaminant, but why was this question popping up all of a sudden? We decided to do some digging, and very quickly, it became clear why so many people were worried.

What’s it used for?

Ethylene Oxide is a gas often used to clean medical equipment that can’t be cleaned at high temperatures, such as items that use plastic or electronic components. It is used as standard in medical sterilization facilities right across the country.

Is it dangerous?

Yes!! Ethylene Oxide is highly toxic. Even exposure to small amounts can result in eye, nose and throat irritation. More serious exposure can cause severe breathing difficulties, skin burns, weakness, twitching, convulsions, and even coma. Ethylene Oxide has also been linked to certain types of blood cancers, namely lymphoma and leukemia. In short, Ethylene Oxide should not be anywhere near the general population. But it has been many times over many years. As the lawsuits emerge, it is clear that a number of sterilization facilities have mishandled the use of this highly toxic substance, putting local residents at risk.

One person’s story

We spoke to one individual who knows first-hand about the dangers of Ethylene Oxide. In 2004, she was working in an office building near a medical sterilization facility. For years she suffered with constant congestion, and inflammation of the nose and throat. She wasn’t the only one. Around 60% of the people working nearby at that time complained of the same problems. The situation became so bad that a number of health insurance companies investigated the building itself, looking for signs of sick building syndrome. But the investigations drew a blank. It wasn’t until years later as other stories of Ethylene Oxide started to surface that she made the connection.

Legal loopholes

So why has it taken so long for legal proceedings to start? According to Ron Sahu, an environmental engineer and consultant to the Southern Environmental Law Center, legislation is weak (Goodman & Miller, 2019). Companies are not required to report a leak if it is less than 10lbs a day. But even exposure to small amounts of Ethylene Oxide, a known carcinogen, is a danger to local communities.

We can help

Are you concerned about Ethylene Oxide exposure in your community? Do you live close to a sterilization facility? Change is coming but we are not there yet. In the short term, you may want to consider using air filtration. All our air purifiers will effectively remove a number of contaminants from the air, including Ethylene Oxide. For more on our range of products and what they can do for you, visit our website here.

Reference: Goodman, B. & Miller, A. (2019). Georgia plant reports 8-day Ethylene Oxide leak. Retrieved December 3, 2019 from https://www.webmd.com/cancer/news/20191004/georgia-plant-reports-8-da-ethylene-oxide-leak