Congressional Dems call for EtO alternatives
Illinois State Medical Society also backs other, safer methods of sterilization
By Ted Cox
Illinois congressional Democrats called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Thursday to seek out alternatives to using ethylene oxide in the sterilization of medical supplies.
Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin joined Reps. Lauren Underwood, Brad Schneider, and Dan Lipinski in sending a letter to the FDA seeking alternatives to EtO.
The carcinogenic chemical has caused what’s believed to be a cancer cluster in the southwest-suburban Willowbrook area, blamed on EtO emissions at Sterigenics, which had its EtO sterilization process shut down by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency in February. It has also raised concerns in Lake County from emissions at Medline in Waukegan and Vantage Specialty Chemicals in Gurnee, but the FDA has warned that shutting down additional sterilization companies could cause a shortage in medical equipment.
“It is imperative that our nation’s medical devices are safe and sterile, but it is equally imperative that the methods used to sterilize those devices are not poisoning our air and causing cancer in our communities,” the members of Congress wrote in their letter. “The last thing we need — on top of the potential public health crisis created by high EtO emissions into communities — is a public health crisis involving shortages of medical devices at our nation’s hospitals and surgical centers.”
Without mentioning Medline or Vantage specifically, they warned, “it is vitally important that the FDA begin making contingency plans, in the event other medical device sterilization facilities are shut down.”
According to the Stop Sterigenics grassroots group in the Willowbrook area, the Illinois State Medical Society just passed a resolution at its annual meeting in Peoria calling for alternatives to EtO use in the sterilization of medical supplies. The resolution cited how, immediately after the IEPA’s Seal Order was placed on Sterigenics in February, the society “adopted policy that supports substitution of ethylene oxide with less toxic substances that are currently available, including hydrogen peroxide, steam, and other safer alternatives, which do not release carcinogens into the workplace or community and allow no residual exposures to the patient.”
The new resolution repeated that policy, adding that the society should also push for the American Medical Association to adopt it nationally.
Underwood, Schneider, and Lipinski all represent districts near or including the concerned sites in DuPage and Lake counties.