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News Releases from HeadquartersAir and Radiation (OAR)

Efforts Underway to Increase Sterilization Capacity in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

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WASHINGTON (March 25, 2020) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is providing an update on efforts underway with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) to safely and quickly increase production at sterilization facilities in the cities of Covington and Madison in response to the dramatically increased need for sterile medical equipment during the COVID-19 response. Today, the state and Becton Dickinson (BD) reached an agreement to temporarily increase the number of medical devices BD is allowed to sterilize during this period of emergency. In addition, BD is presently installing new air emission controls at these two facilities that are expected to dramatically reduce ethylene oxide, enhancing environmental protection for nearby communities.

“I commend the swift actions by Governor Kemp and the Georgia EPD taking the necessary steps to increase the nation’s capacity to sterilize critically needed life-saving medical equipment and protect our heroic healthcare workers and their patients. This federal, state and local collaboration is a great example of the whole of government approach we are taking to address COVID 19,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “While we must take into account the risks from emissions of ethylene oxide, and addressing those risks remains a major regulatory priority for the agency, it’s important to bear in mind those risks are linked to exposure over an entire lifetime - over a 70 year period - however, COVID-19 poses an immediate threat to our nation during this crisis. ”

Increasing production at these facilities will help protect healthcare workers and patients, who have a critical need for access to sterile medical devices and equipment. The Food and Drug Administration reports that demand for sterile equipment is outpacing supply during the response.

EPA is reviewing its air toxics standards for commercial sterilizers like the facilities in Newton and Morgan Counties and expects to issue a proposed rule for public comment this year. During the COVID-19 response, EPA will continue to coordinate with state and local air agencies that have been working to reduce ethylene oxide emissions in their jurisdictions.