NEW TAZEWELL, Tenn. (WATE) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is hosting a community meeting on Thursday in order to share information about the health risks from ethylene oxide or EtO, a chemical emitted from a facility in Claiborne County.

The hybrid public meeting is happening June 1 at Walters State Community College in New Tazewell. People can attend in person or online. A link to the webinar can be found here.

According to the EPA, DeRoyal Industries along Highway 33 in New Tazewell uses EtO to sterilize medical equipment and materials. DeRoyal Industries began its operations at the Claiborne County facility in 1973.

EtO is an odorless, colorless, flammable gas. The EPA’s fact sheet on EtO states it is produced in large volumes at some chemical manufacturing facilities. In the United States, EtO is primarily used to make other chemicals that are used to make a range of products including antifreeze, textiles, plastics, detergents, and adhesives.

It is also used to sterilize devices that cannot be sterilized using steam or radiation, such as some medical and dental equipment.

EtO is a human carcinogen or a cancer-causing chemical; inhalation of EtO at elevated levels over a lifetime can increase a person’s cancer risk, the EPA says.

The EPA has shared an updated Fact Sheet on EtO as well as the agency’s outreach efforts toward residents in the surrounding area. The agency is also proposing some rules that it issued in April. Those proposed rules include:

  • Reducing EtO Emissions from Commercial Sterilizers by strengthening emission standards for the 86 commercial sterilizers that are currently in operation across the country as well as for new sterilizer facilities;
  • Reducing Risk to Workers in the Sterilization Industry via a broad set of new protections under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act.

“The EPA has regulated EtO emissions for 30 years, however in 2016, new scientific information revealed that EtO is more toxic than previously understood,” the Fact Sheet states. “This prompted the EPA to conduct nationwide analyses and intensive data collection, which has revealed that certain communities near commercial sterilizers could have elevated cancer risks due to lifetime exposures to EtO.”

Back in March, DeRoyal Industries said in a statement sent to WATE 6 On Your Side that it has been in ongoing communication with both the EPA and the State of Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, Division of Pollution Control, regarding the August 2022 modeling and the upcoming proposed rule(s); adding that the company “is looking forward to continuing its efforts with the EPA and the State of Tennessee to comply with any newly implemented regulations.”

DeRoyal Industries’ full statement from March 2023 can be found here.

The community meeting is at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Walters State Community College campus in New Tazewell, which is located at 1325 Claiborne St.