EPA: Strengthen standards for cancer-causing chemical

Texas is home to 39 ethylene oxide-emitting facilities -- more than any state in the country.

Catherine Fraser

Environment Texas was proud to join the Environmental Integrity Project, Community In-Power & Development Association, Sierra Club’s Lone Star Chapter, Air Alliance Houston, and Texas Campaign for the Environment earlier this year in calling on the EPA to strengthen standards for ethylene oxide.

Ethylene oxide is a colorless, flammable gas that is primarily used in the production of industrial chemicals. Ethylene oxide poses serious threats to human health, causing lung and respiratory irritation, nausea, headache, vomiting, diarrhea, and even cancer. 

On May 29th, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized amendments to the 2003 Miscellaneous Organic Chemical Manufacturing National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP), also known as MON. This ruling has potentially huge implications for Texas, which is home to 39 ethylene oxide-emitting facilities — more than any state in the country. The amendments require industrial facilities to plug the leaks of ethylene oxide, reducing emissions by an estimated 39 metric tons per year.

We still have a long way to go here in Texas. Notably, in making the final MON rule, EPA rejected the requests of industry and the State of Texas to use their proposed ethylene oxide standard, a standard developed without the support of scientific research. Instead, the EPA followed its own scientists’ 2016 cancer risk assessment of ethylene oxide in finalizing the rule, electing to follow the best available science and delivering a notable victory for science and fenceline communities.

However, while the amendment acknowledges the harmful health effects of ethylene oxide, it still doesn’t go far enough in strengthening the ethylene oxide standard to protect the health and safety of Texans living near these facilities, who will continue to face a cancer risk as high as 200 in 1 million. This amendment falls short in protecting frontline communities and disproportionately affects communities of color and low wealth, who tend to live closer to industry.

This post was authored by Eana Bacchiocchi, a senior at Colby College and intern with Environment Texas’ Clean Air Project. 


Catherine Fraser