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ACC Assists Georgia with Important Ethylene Oxide Research

Charlotte Anthony

We understand people’s concerns over ethylene oxide. No one should have to question whether the air they breathe is safe. Protecting the health and safety of the public is a top priority for the producers and users of ethylene oxide and our industry, and companies that make and work with ethylene oxide are actively investing in research and cutting-edge product stewardship technologies so that we can continue to help protect the health of our communities.

Since 2002, industrial ethylene oxide emissions have fallen by over 80 percent as a result of our efforts. Companies that make and work with ethylene oxide are making great progress at reducing emissions, but we are not stopping there. We are constantly using what we’ve learned to improve best practices, striving to minimize emissions every day. However, we also recognize ethylene oxide exists naturally and from sources other than in industrial settings.

As part of our commitment to reduce ethylene oxide emissions and to enhance existing information on the presence of ethylene oxide in the air we breathe, we were pleased to sponsor a project to measure normal levels of ethylene oxide in various areas around Georgia. The goal of this project is to help provide lawmakers, regulators and the public with a greater understanding of existing levels of ethylene oxide in the air.

Ethylene oxide is made of three common elements -- hydrogen, carbon and oxygen. It is released into the air by numerous sources, including plants as they decay, vehicle exhaust, by heating cooking oils, and through the use of gas and charcoal grills, among many others. The human body also naturally creates small amounts of ethylene oxide through breathing. Together, these sources are referred to as “background” levels of ethylene oxide.

As we seek to continue to minimize industrial emissions of ethylene oxide, it’s important to understand what are normal, background levels of ethylene oxide in the air -- which the results of this testing help to demonstrate. The testing, conducted January 13-26, 2020, confirms that, even in highly remote areas of the state, there is a measurable amount of ethylene oxide in the air, meaning these background levels cannot reasonably be attributed to industrial emissions.

For instance, the highest level measured in one daily sample (7.8 parts per billion (ppb) was near Perimeter Mall in Dunwoody, GA, which is far from any known industrial ethylene oxide sources. Even in the Pine Mountain, GA, sampling, the location of which is more than 70 miles from the nearest industrial source, there were measurable amounts of background ethylene oxide in the air (.28 ppb on average).

These findings mirror data that was released by the EPA late last year that was collected in various other parts of the country—that ethylene oxide is readily found in areas with no industrial use.

We believe in regulations based on sound science and in transparency in the regulatory process, which is why we are making this information publicly available and providing it to Georgia officials. 

We are committed to help protect public health and adding to the robust discussion about this important chemistry. Families in Georgia should know that one comprehensive lifetime exposure study of workers in ethylene oxide production facilities found no statistically significant excess cancer risk due to ethylene oxide exposure.  A similar result was recently found in Michigan when the state analyzed the population near a facility that used ethylene oxide in Grand Rapids, and in Jefferson County, TX, which has more ethylene oxide emissions on a square mile basis than any other county in Texas, incidents of specific cancers “are lower than in the general U.S. population.

We look forward to continuing to work with the EPA and state officials across the country to help protect public health and our environment.

American Chemistry Council

The American Chemistry Council’s mission is to advocate for the people, policy, and products of chemistry that make the United States the global leader in innovation and manufacturing. To achieve this, we: Champion science-based policy solutions across all levels of government; Drive continuous performance improvement to protect employees and communities through Responsible Care®; Foster the development of sustainability practices throughout ACC member companies; and Communicate authentically with communities about challenges and solutions for a safer, healthier and more sustainable way of life. Our vision is a world made better by chemistry, where people live happier, healthier, and more prosperous lives, safely and sustainably—for generations to come.

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