EPA identifies high cancer risk from chemicals in Lakewood neighborhood

LAKEWOOD, Colo. – Scientists with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have identified a high cancer risk in an area of ​​Lakewood due to a nearby business that emits ethylene oxide into the atmosphere. ‘air.

Terumo BCT Sterilization Service, Inc., located at W. Collins Avenue and Simms Street in Lakewood, is a medical device manufacturing company that uses ethylene oxide to sterilize its equipment and materials, according to the EPA. It started its operations in 2000.

Ethylene oxide is a flammable, colorless gas that is used to make antifreeze, plastics, detergents and adhesives, and to sterilize appliances, according to the EPA. The Food and Drug Administration reports that approximately 50% of sterile medical devices are treated with ethylene oxide. It is a human carcinogen and constant exposure over many years increases the risk of white blood cell cancers, including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, myeloma and lymphocytic leukemia, as well as breast cancer in women, according to the EPA. Ethylene oxide is also produced naturally in the body during the metabolism of ethylene, which is easily lost through expiration, the EPA said.

EPA scientists and analysts, in an effort to understand the impacts of Terumo BCT Sterilization Service, Inc.’s ethylene oxide emissions and cancer risks to its neighbors, conducted a risk assessment on the product singular chemical.

Based on the data collected and the results, the EPA has determined that there is a high risk of cancer in this area of ​​the Lakewood community. This risk information is current as of July 27, 2022 and may be updated.

The map below shows the EPA’s lifetime cancer risk estimates. The installation is identified by the orange square.


The light blue area shows an estimated lifetime cancer risk of 100 in a million or more if a person breathes air containing ethylene oxide, according to the EPA. In other words, this means that if a million people were exposed to that level of ethylene oxide 24/7 for 70 years, 100 people would develop cancer from that exposure. The dark blue area increases the risk level to 600 in a million, or six in 10,000.

The EPA said this is a “worst-case scenario that assumes a person stays in the high-risk zone 24 hours a day continuously for 70 years,” according to the agency. He added that the Terumo BCT sterilization service does not violate regulatory requirements for air pollution control.

There is no simple answer to how much distance is enough to avoid these risks, the EPA said. This depends on a variety of factors, including how far the chemical has traveled and how long it remains concentrated in the air.

The EPA is now working with state and local agencies, facilities and the community to reduce the risk. It will determine if additional air pollution controls are needed.

In a statement to the media, sterilization service Terumo BCT explained how it uses ethylene oxide as it is “the only viable and effective option for sterilizing many medical products, including most of what we produce. “. Its use of ethylene oxide is strictly regulated, the company said.

“The EPA says its risk assessment information represents a potential risk and not an actual one,” the statement continued. “This is the most conservative estimate of potential risk; the EPA cautions that it should be used as a screening tool to identify areas that require much more study to determine the actual health risks to people. facility employees and local communities Terumo BCT supports the EPA’s national review of EtO use and emission levels and its efforts to engage the community on new risk information.

Jessi Done, senior sterilization plant manager at Terumo BCT, said her emissions are well below allowable limits.

“When Colorado looked at cancer registry data, they found no increase in actual cancer rates around Terumo compared to the rest of the state,” Done said. “We care deeply about our employees, the community we have called home for 55 years, and the patients who rely on our health products.”

The EPA offered ways for adults and children to take care of their health, as well as a community meeting in the fall to learn more about this specific case.

Adults should follow routine medical checkups and contact their health care provider if they have concerns about exposure to ethylene oxide. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, at 888-232-6348, can provide the location of occupational and environmental health clinics. Parents of children who may be affected by this situation can contact the Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit in their region. Children are more sensitive to the chemical than adults, according to the EPA.

A community meeting, hosted by the EPA, is scheduled for October 25. Agency staff will present the results of their 2022 ethylene oxide risk modeling analysis for the facility. To register to attend the October meeting, click here and scroll down to the “Register to Attend Community Meeting” banner. Residents can read a letter from the company addressing the community here.

Previously, company and state officials assessed and reduced the risk of ethylene oxide in 2018, and this meeting will include new information and resolutions to those actions. Control measures in 2018 reduced community risk by 50 to 75 percent, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Sterilization service Terumo BCT said next year it plans to cut emissions further with a new $22 million system that will convert ethylene oxide to water vapor and carbon dioxide.

Later this year, the EPA plans to propose to strengthen current regulations for commercial ethylene oxide sterilizers.