Recently, a law has been approved by the administration to ban ethylene oxide—a chemical compound used for medical tools sterilization—as its fumes may be associated with the threat of developing cancer, after evaluation of the chemical sterilization process. The manufacturers of ethylene oxide warned about the upset of supply chain that would hamper the surgical treatments and ultimately lead to a public health crisis.
Lara Simmons, a producer and supplier of medical products in Northfield, and also group president of QA and regulatory affairs for Medline Industries said that currently there is no alternative of ethylene oxide for medical tools sterilization, and the ban over ethylene oxide would cause supply disruption and directly affects public safety and health.
Earlier this year, U.S. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) examined the association of ethylene oxide emissions and cancer hazard by analyzing high cancer risks in the areas near to the Sterigenics, a sterilization services provider, Willowbrook. In December 2016, the EPA categorized this chemical as carcinogenic for humans as per the interpretations that employees exposed to ethylene oxides have higher chances of developing white blood cells cancer along with the increased possibility of developing breast cancer in women.
Recent hearings by the Environmental Committee of Illinois General Assembly presented HB 5985—funded by two Democrats; Rep.-elect Laura Fine, Glenview and Rep. Carol Sente, Vernon Hills—which is in favor of prohibiting the use of ethylene oxide by 1st January of the year 2021. Along with this, the committee also passed SB-3630 and SB-3640 with an aim of banning ethylene oxide by Jan. 1, 2022
Roseann Oesterblad, director of sterile processing in Swedish Covenant Hospital, said that they have been using hydrogen peroxide for sterilization as an alternative to ethylene oxide since 2014. However, many disposable medical products are currently based on ethylene oxide sterilization including catheters and bandages.
Apart from hydrogen peroxide, gamma radiations, and steam based sterilization techniques are also effective, but these techniques are incompatible with some products such as silicon-based devices and surgical gowns.