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EPA forced to finalize rule on cancer-causing emissions at commercial sterilizers like Cook

A sign at the entrance to Cook Group Inc. in Ellettsville.
Alan Mbathi
/
IPB News
The Environmental Protection Agency still hasn’t finalized a rule limiting the chemical at commercial sterilizers like Cook Group Inc. in Ellettsville just west of Bloomington.

It’s been about seven years since the Environmental Protection Agency found a chemical used to sterilize medical equipment and spices was a lot more harmful than the agency originally thought. Long-term exposure to ethylene oxide can cause blood cancers and breast cancer in women, among other things.

But the agency still hasn’t finalized a rule limiting the chemical at commercial sterilizers like Cook Group Inc. in Ellettsville just west of Bloomington. Now the EPA will have to do so by March of next year as part of a legal settlement with activists living near these facilities.

Marvin Brown is a senior attorney with Earthjustice, which represented activists in the suit. He said the EPA needs to take action now to protect people, and particularly children, exposed to ethylene oxide — which can destroy DNA.

“As children grow, their cells are dividing — that's the process of growing. And when you have children that are breathing in ethylene oxide, as their cells divide, their risk of harm and their risk of cancer is significantly higher," Brown said.

READ MORE: Cook plant emits cancer-causing chemical but state, federal regulators didn't notify residents

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The EPA has proposed a rule for commercial sterilizers. Among other things, all sterilizers would have to meet the same requirements regardless of how much ethylene oxide they emit. And those that emit more than 10 tons would have to apply for a stricter permit.

But Brown said warehouses that store products sterilized with ethylene oxide wouldn't be covered under the proposed rule. The rule also wouldn't require companies to monitor emissions at their fence lines — which he said is incredibly important.

“To help communicate to communities that the air that they're breathing is actually truly safe and not depending solely on the word of the facilities themselves," Brown said.

It could still be about two years before the rule gets implemented.

Rebecca is our energy and environment reporter. Contact her at rthiele@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @beckythiele.

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Rebecca Thiele covers statewide environment and energy issues.