The Environmental Protection Agency is warning that residents living near medical sterilizing plants in two New Jersey municipalities are at an increased risk of developing cancer over their lifetimes.

Ethylene Oxide, or EtO, is a colorless and flammable gas. According to the EPA, the chemical is typically used to make products such as antifreeze and plastic bottles and to sterilize 20 billion pieces of medical equipment annually.

The EPA stated that the often odorless gas also poses a health risk to anyone consistently exposed to it over several years, including an increased risk of blood and breast cancers.

One site in New Jersey using EtO to sterilize medical equipment is in Sussex County. Cosmed Group Inc. is located in a light industrial, rural area in Franklin Borough, north of Route 94.

The other is in Linden and is referred to as EtO Sterilization-Plant #2.

Maps provided by the EPA show estimates of lifetime cancer risks from EtO in the areas around these two sites. The blue area shows "risks of 100 in a million or greater from breathing air containing EtO emitted from the facility (or the same as 1 additional cancer case in 10,000 people)."

"A lifetime cancer risk of 100 in a million means that, if 1 million people were exposed to this level of EtO in the air 24 hours a day for 70 years, 100 people would be expected to develop cancer from that exposure," according to the EPA.

Maps showing EPA's estimates of lifetime cancer risks from EtO in Franklin (Sussex) and Linden. (EPA)
Maps showing EPA's estimates of lifetime cancer risks from EtO in Franklin (Sussex) and Linden. (EPA)
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The EPA said it plans to hold virtual community meetings in September for Linden, Franklin Borough and 21 other communities throughout the nation and Puerto Rico. EPA Administrator Michael Regan said that meetings are a way to engage and inform those communities about the agency's efforts to address EtO.

“Under my watch, EPA will do everything we can to share critical information on exposure risk to the people who need and deserve this information, and to take action to protect communities from pollution,” Regan said.

An EPA spokesperson told New Jersey 101.5 that the agency is "working to confirm specific dates for community meetings in the coming weeks."

Rick Rickman is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at richard.rickman@townsquaremedia.com

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