LAKEWOOD, COLO. — Representatives from Jefferson County Public Health, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Terumo BCT Sterilization Services, Inc., will participate in an open house next week to answer questions from interested community members about ethylene oxide emissions at the Terumo BCT sterilization facility in Lakewood, Colo., and potential community health risks. The meeting will be held on Tuesday, Dec. 11, from 5:30–7 p.m. at the Boy Scouts of America office at 10455 6th Ave. in Lakewood.
In August 2018, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2014 National Air Toxics Assessment (NATA) identified the Terumo BCT Sterilization Services facility at 11308 W. Collins Ave. (east of Simms Street and south of 12th Ave.) as one of 26 facilities nationally with ethylene oxide emissions posing a potential for elevated cancer risk. Terumo BCT’s processes at its Lakewood facility include using ethylene oxide to sterilize medical devices. The NATA assumes the increased risk is for someone with a lifetime of exposure — or about 70 years.
Terumo BCT has worked cooperatively with authorities since EPA notified the state of the NATA and is in full compliance with all state and federal air pollution control requirements. The sterilization facility is permitted by the Air Pollution Control Division at the state health department. The facility has been operating at this location since 2001.
While the air toxics assessment, which used computer modeling, showed a potential increased lifetime risk of cancer for residents living in the vicinity of the facility, an analysis by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment shows the rates of cancer diagnoses in the area are consistent with statewide averages.
“It is very difficult to pinpoint a specific cause for cancers because there are so many other underlying factors that can also increase a person’s risk,” said Dr. Mark B. Johnson, director of Jefferson County Public Health.
Johnson explained NATA assumes a potential increased risk related to lifetime exposure, but the Terumo BCT facility has only been in the area since 2001. Johnson finds that reassuring, he said.
“The increased risk may or may not translate to an increased rate of cancer diagnoses,” said Mike Van Dyke, state environmental epidemiologist with the state health department.
Terumo BCT continues to be in compliance with its air permit. Since the NATA was released in August, Terumo BCT has increased control technology at the facility to capture and further reduce the majority of its emissions. Terumo BCT is working with the Air Pollution Control Division to ensure its permit requires the use of the new emission controls in perpetuity.
In late 2016, EPA revised its guidance for assessing the cancer risk posed by inhalation of ethylene oxide over a lifetime by reducing the air concentration associated with an increased risk of cancer by more than 30-fold. Terumo BCT emissions have decreased in recent months since the release of the NATA, as a result of new controls that have been installed.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment conducted air sampling in eight locations near the facility where modeling showed there would be the greatest impact from emissions. Air samples were also taken far away from the facility as background samples. Sampling near the facility showed at or near background concentrations, but even those low concentrations exceed the newly EPA-established risk level.
“The most recent air samples in the community surrounding the Terumo BCT facility show ethylene oxide levels comparable to levels found throughout the western portion of the Denver metro area,” said Gordon Pierce, technical services manager in the Air Pollution Control Division at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “Terumo BCT has implemented controls and is looking into newer technologies to see if emissions can be reduced even further in the future.”
Past research has suggested Hodgkin's lymphoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, multiple myeloma, lymphocytic leukemia cancers may be associated with workplace inhalation exposure of ethylene oxide. Colorado data shows none of these cancer types in the vicinity of the facility exceed what would be expected based on comparison to statewide incidence.
Community members in the vicinity who have concerns about their health should talk to their health care provider. Community members who have questions about ethylene oxide exposure can come to the open house or call the state health department’s toxicology call line at 303-692-2606, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
More information on the CDPHE website.
More information on ethylene oxide from EPA.
More information on the National Air Toxics Assessment from EPA.