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. The proposed rules apply to 86 commercial sterilization facilities in the US. Single-use medical items like surgical gowns, gloves, and catheters would be affected. However, some devices still require ethylene oxide for sterilization. The new rules require personal protective equipment and new controls to lessen the amount of ethylene oxide in indoor air. They also mandate real-time monitoring of pollution controls and limit the application rate for ethylene oxide to 500 milligrams per liter of air. The EPA will consider public comments through a virtual webinar 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 new regulations are long overdue.