EPA warns public of potential cancer-causing chemicals at Memphis plant

EPA logo and US Capitol
EPA logo and US Capitol(MGN)
Published: Aug. 3, 2022 at 12:46 PM EDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A sterilization plant in Memphis is at the center of an Environmental Protection Agency investigation into potentially cancer-causing chemicals.

The EPA is warning people who live near medical sterilizing plants in 13 states and Puerto Rico about potential health risks from emissions of ethylene oxide (EtO), a chemical widely used in their operations.

One of those plants is Sterilization Services of Tennessee at 2396 Florida Street in South Memphis.

The plant has been in operation since 1976. The city says the facility follows the EPA’s current rules and regulations.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland released the following statement:

The city has sent letters to 292 homes in the area informing them about the potentially hazardous chemicals. Click here to read more about the city’s response.

Ethylene oxide is used to clean everything from catheters to syringes, pacemakers and plastic surgical gowns.

“Today, EPA is taking action to ensure communities are informed and engaged in our efforts to address ethylene oxide, a potent air toxic posing serious health risks with long-term exposure,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement Wednesday.

“I am very concerned about the emissions based on the history of this chemical in other cities,” said Tennessee Congressman Steve Cohen in response. “It is fortunate that the risk was detected and that federal officials are working to address it. I am in close contact with the EPA and Memphis and Shelby County officials to ensure that adequate testing and safety measures are in place and to engage the surrounding community about the risk of exposure.”

The EPA says short-term or infrequent exposure does not pose a health risk, but long-term or lifetime exposure could lead to health risks including lymphoma or breast cancer.

Despite these risks, EPA says medical sterilization is “a critical function that ensures a safe supply of medical devices for patients and hospitals.’’

A proposed rule to update control of air toxic emissions from commercial sterilizers is expected by the end of the year, with a final rule likely next year, EPA said.

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