The Environmental Protection Agency is considering an effective ban of a chemical compound called ethylene oxide. However, abruptly eliminating the chemical from use could have profound negative consequences for manufacturers and make modern life much more difficult.
The background: Ethylene oxide is a chemical used in a wide range of products, from textiles to plastics to antifreeze. It’s also used to sterilize certain medical devices—and in some cases, it’s the only chemical effective for that purpose.
The problem: The EPA is considering a new regulation that would set the acceptable levels of the chemical in the atmosphere so low that it amounts to a ban on the compound.
- “If you took a monitor outside in any U.S. city center, where no manufacturing production occurs, the level of ethylene oxide would be higher than the level the EPA is proposing,” said NAM Vice President of Domestic Policy Brandon Farris.
- “So anywhere that manufactures or uses ethylene oxide would be above the level they’re suggesting. The EPA is effectively banning it by creating a level that’s so low it can’t possibly be met.”
The impact: Because there are no current substitutes for some uses of ethylene oxide, a de facto ban would have immediate and serious impacts.
- “If this rule is finalized, a large number of medical devices could no longer be sterilized, and a lot of items that are relied on for modern life, such as textiles, plastics, household cleaners and adhesives, could not be produced in their current form,” said Farris. “If the EPA moves forward with this proposal, there will be no alternatives for the critical uses of this compound.”
The timeline: The final rule is expected to be released in the next few months. If the EPA chooses to finalize the rule in its current form—which would create a de facto ban on production and usage—manufacturers would be required to find a replacement for the chemical immediately. Developing a replacement in such a short amount of time will be difficult if not impossible.
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