EPA Review of Ethylene Oxide Exposure Standards May Fuel More Lawsuits

In December 2019, the EPA issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking to revise the standards for commercial ethylene oxide sterilization and fumigation facilities. This was in response to the National Air Toxics Assessment (NATA) report, which identified the chemical as a potential concern in several regions across the country. Many of the regions identified in the report have since seen lawsuits against plants in these areas, including more than 85 suits against Sterigenics and others against Union Carbide alleging that ethylene oxide gas from their plants resulted in cancers among workers and area residents.

Ethylene oxide is a flammable, colorless gas used to make other chemicals that are used in making antifreeze, textiles, plastics, detergents, adhesives and other products. It is also is used to sterilize equipment and plastic devices that cannot be sterilized by steam, such as medical equipment. The EPA classified ethylene oxide as a human carcinogen (cancer-causing compound or substance) in December 2016.

Long-term exposure to ethylene oxide increases the risk of cancers including non-Hodgkin lymphoma, myeloma, lymphocytic leukemia, and breast cancer. In addition, it can cause irritation of the eyes, skin, nose, throat, and lungs, and damage to the brain and nervous system. Short-term exposure in high concentrations can cause headache, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, respiratory irritation (e.g., coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing), and gastrointestinal distress.

The health effects vary depending on the amount inhaled and duration of exposure as well as health factors related to the individual. While there are tests to show recent exposure to ethylene oxide, they are not intended for use on individuals exposed to very low levels of the chemical nor can they be used to predict how it will affect a person’s health.

As with any lawsuit involving exposure to toxins, expert witnesses are crucial to establishing causation and injury. Medical Toxicologists are experts in the treatment of poisoning, drug overdose, and exposure to toxins or biological agents. They understand not only the effects of various toxins, but also have the expertise to determine whether patients have suffered from medically verifiable consequences of alleged exposure. Similarly, Occupational and Environmental Medicine (“OEM”) specialists focus on the diagnosis and treatment of work-related illness, injury, and toxic exposures. Both types of expert witnesses are invaluable to litigation because they can explain to a jury the EPA assessments, scientific research on the health effects of exposure as well as the impact on the plaintiff. In addition, Oncologists, Pulmonologists and Internal Medicine specialists may be needed to testify regarding the nature and severity of the plaintiff’s injury.

Once the final rules are released, more lawsuits are likely. To monitor the status of the EPA’s proposed amendments related to ethylene oxide, visit the EPA’s website.

If you are considering filing a claim or must defend against one involving ethylene oxide exposure, please contact Elite Medical Experts for help with finding nationally recognized expert witnesses for your case.

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