Last August, the National Air Toxics Assessment from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identified the Terumo BCT’s facility as one of 26 places in the country where emissions of ethylene oxide may pose an elevated risk for cancer. The Terumo BCT Lakewood location is the only one in the United States. The assessment is based off computer modeling that identifies air pollutants, rather than actual air sampling, or cancer rates. The estimated cancer risk is thought to be 500 in a million for someone with about 70 years of exposure to ethylene oxide, according to a statement from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).
Terumo BCT uses ethylene oxide to sterilize its medical devices. According to the EPA, ethylene oxide is a flammable, colorless gas that is used to create other chemicals. Those chemicals are then used to create products like plastics, textiles and antifreeze.
Terumo BCT, located at 11308 W. Collins Ave., contains six buildings. The medical device manufacturing is permitted by the Air Pollution Control Division at the state health department, and it does not exceed permitted emissions, according to CDPHE. It has been in the Lakewood area since 1967.
Those who are exposed to ethylene oxide over a long period of time can suffer from irritated eyes, skin, lungs, nose and throat, according to the EPA. Other health complications can include headaches, memory loss and numbness.
Long-term exposure to the gas increases the risk for certain types of cancer like breast cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, myeloma and lymphocytic leukemia.
In a community assessment from the CDPHE, a study of actual air emissions around the Terumo building found ethylene oxide levels were not significantly higher than baseline readings for the area.
The CDPHE targeted eight locations near Terumo BCT for air samplings, where modeling showed ethylene oxide would be most impactful.
According to the CDPHE study, there was a “significant reduction” in ethylene oxide around Terumo BCT, after the company reviewed its own systems following the EPA warning, ranging from a two, to fivefold reduction.
Data from the risk assessment shows that one of the sites with the highest levels of ethylene oxide contained 1.6 parts per billion of the toxin, before the company installed new emission controls. Following that, ethylene oxide in that same site dropped to .4 parts per billion. The average regional parts per billion of ethylene oxide is a little below .2 parts per billion.
According to the risk assessment, the rates of those cancers in the area surrounding Terumo BCT were no different than expected, based on cancer rates in the rest of the state from 2000 to 2017.
While there isn’t evidence that there is more cancer in the area of Terumo BCT, state health officials say breathing low levels of ethylene oxide over a lifetime, similar to what was detected near the medical device manufacturing’s facility may lead to a small increased risk of cancer. However, it could take decades for data to show whether the increased risk does lead to increased rate of cancer.