The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed new restrictions on facilities that use ethylene oxide, a colorless, odorless, and tasteless cancer-causing chemical that is used to sterilize medical devices and spices. The proposed rules aim to reduce ethylene oxide gas emissions by 80%, bringing emissions below the Clean Air Act standard for elevated cancer risk and thus balancing the health risks of affected workers and communities. The proposed rules apply to 86 commercial sterilization facilities in the US that use ethylene oxide to fumigate medical devices and spices. Medical devices, mostly single-use, disposable items like surgical gowns, gloves, and catheters, would be affected. While the US Food and Drug Administration is exploring alternatives, some devices still require ethylene oxide for sterilization. The new rules require personal protective equipment and new controls to decrease the amount of ethylene oxide in indoor air. They also mandate real-time monitoring to ensure that pollution controls are functioning and limit the application rate for ethylene oxide to 500 milligrams per liter of air. The EPA will take public comments on the proposed rules for 60 days.

Advocacy groups have welcomed the move but say it does not go far enough. Communities exposed to the gas have been pushing for tighter controls on plants that use it, and environmental watchdog groups have welcomed the proposed rules. However, some have noted that the rules don’t go far enough to protect vulnerable communities as these regulations are long overdue.