Ethylene oxide (EtO) is an essential sterilant, used for all sorts of devices that can't take steam processing. For some years, it has been fashionable to pile on this compound. Yet, pesky data—tracing morbidity and mortality of EtO-exposed workers and comparing it to the non-exposed population—shows essentially no difference (beginning in the OSHA era).
Older EtO sterilizers were used in conjunction with separate aerators, so that workers had to unload the sterilizer and place the load into the aerator. Technically, this provided an additional exposure, compared to more modern sterilizers that have built-in aerators.
One would think that such practices would logically come under OSHA, but since ethylene oxide is considered a pesticide, EPA enters the picture.
Pesticides have to be registered and re-registered, so certain new guidelines for EtO came into effect on March 1, 2010, the most important of which is to prohibit the use of separate aerators. Or, to put it more positively, only single chamber sterilizers are now to be used.
The good news for EtO, though is that EPA also found that:
[T]he benefits of EtO use outweigh the occupational risks associated with its use provided that the risk mitigation measures outlined...are adopted and label amendments are made to reflect these measures.
Interscan has posted a Knowledge Base article on this matter, and I would encourage all in health care who might be affected by the new regs, to surf on over.