By Jessica Mathews /

A medical sterilizing company in Howell has been cited for having elevated levels of ethylene oxide gas near its facility.

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) issued an air quality violation notice related to public health Thursday to Centurion Medical Products at 301 Catrell Drive in Howell after air sampling around its facility found unsafe levels of ethylene oxide emissions.

A press release states Centurion, owned by Medline Industries, Inc., uses ethylene oxide gas to sterilize equipment used in the healthcare industry. The gas has been determined to be a human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Following a request in January by the EPA to review ethylene oxide information submitted by Centurion, EGLE determined that further investigation was warranted. EGLE conducted an initial round of air sampling to further evaluate ethylene oxide emissions in Centurion’s facility. The samples were collected over a 24-hour period from March 29th to 30th. The results found ethylene oxide at concentrations above acceptable health screening levels for long-term exposure.

The violation notice instructs Centurion to evaluate possible next steps to reduce ethylene oxide emissions and outdoor air exposures. Additionally, Centurion must supply information about how its sterilization process is maintained and how the company will meet its health-based permitted limits and comply with all aspects of its air permit. EGLE will review and approve all responses and actions proposed by the company to ensure nearby residents remain safe.

The company responded to the violation notice with a statement that read; "The safety of our employees and the surrounding community always has been a top priority, and we operate our facility safely, within all federal regulations and in compliance with our state of Michigan permit. Ethylene oxide is heavily regulated to ensure its safe use. Medline controls more than 99 percent of all EtO emissions in the Howell facility through emission control technologies. In addition, we use a variety of sterilization methods based on compatibility with each medical device or supply. For many items, including those sterilized in Howell, EtO is the only FDA-approved sterilization method. In response to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy’s (EGLE) public notice, Medline looks forward to working with state officials. Medline shares the EGLE’s goals of protecting public health and air quality."

At very high levels in the air, ethylene oxide can cause immediate health effects, like headaches, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, and respiratory irritation. Based on the levels observed around Centurion, officials say immediate health effects are unlikely to occur. Based on occupational (workplace) studies in humans and in animal studies, prolonged high-level exposure to ethylene oxide increases the risks for developing lymphoid cancers (including multiple myeloma, leukemia, Hodgkin lymphoma, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma) and breast cancer in females. To help ensure that public health is protected, EGLE restricts emissions of ethylene oxide and other air pollutants when it issues air permits to companies.

EGLE plans follow-up air sampling this year and results will be posted online, which includes additional information and resources. EGLE is working with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) and the Livingston County Health Department on public outreach efforts to inform area residents about the emissions, with details of a May public meeting to be announced soon.

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