Following last week’s announcement of proposed new health protections from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for reducing ethylene oxide exposure, Laredo City Council discussed the issue at its Monday night meeting including the reading of a letter from Midwest Sterilization Corporation.
Last week’s announcement from the EPA proposed implementing stricter standards for air emissions and increasing protection for workers exposed to ethylene oxide. The EPA said the proposed changes could reduce these EtO emissions by approximately 80%.
In September of 2022, the EPA held a public meeting at Texas A&M International University outlining the risks to the community from emissions. It said last year that residents living near medical sterilizing plants may face health risks and that Laredo is one of the communities facing the highest risk.
However, the EPA has since said that its previous warning regarding Laredo is “no longer current” due to commercial sterilizers around the country making “improvements or changes to operations that have reduced risks to residents.”
Midwest Sterilization Corp. has operated for over 30 years providing sterilization services for medical devices. Its two facilities are located in Laredo and Jackson, Missouri, and they combine for 376,000 square feet of warehouse space with 55,000 cubic feet of sterilization chamber volume.
Midwest Sterilization Corp. was scheduled to attend Monday’s City Council meeting to discuss some of these changes, but it was unable to attend and instead sent a letter.
“We invited Midwest to come to City Council and inform the public on the status of EtO emissions. Initially they said yes, and they didn’t have the right technicians or people to come down, so they postponed for another date,” Laredo Mayor Dr. Victor Trevino said. “That other date was also postponed, and then a letter was sent to me. We’ve been in constant communication with them too so we can keep the public informed to see what they’re doing.”
The letter sent to Trevino by Midwest Sterilization Corp. general counsel Mark Dunn was read at the meeting by Laredo communications administrator Noraida Negron.
Below is the contents of the letter in full:
Dear Mayor Treviño,
Thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to speak with me yesterday. As discussed, Midwest cannot attend the April 17 City Council meeting in person but will provide a written update for the record.
An important consideration is the official release of the E.P.A.’s long-awaited proposed rule for ethylene oxide emissions from medical device sterilizers which is expected to be released sometime next week. Midwest will require considerable time to review and analyze the proposed rule, but we expect to be in a position to provide an additional update regarding the proposed rule in the near future as well.
As you know, Midwest remains in full compliance with federal and state regulations and even surpasses current regulatory requirements. Nevertheless, we will continue to make voluntary changes to our plant ahead of the implementation of any new regulations in good faith while we continue providing a service that delivers life-saving medical devices to patients across the nation.
We regret any inconvenience this may cause, but we believe the written update will address most major questions related to the upgrades and improvements implemented at the plant in recent years and planned upgrades into the future.
Thank you for your time and attention.
The letter was written on April 7 prior to the release of the announcement from the EPA. On the day of that announcement, Midwest Sterilization Corp. released the following statement:
“Midwest Sterilization Corp. sterilizes life-saving medical devices used in everyday medical procedures and surgeries. The company has been anticipating the proposed EPA rule and working hard to make changes ahead of its release to the public,” the statement read. “We are currently reviewing the proposed rule to understand its impact on our operations. It’s important to note that most of the changes proposed by the EPA, have already been achieved by Midwest, or are currently being implemented.
“Midwest has worked diligently to remain in compliance with all state and federal rules and in some cases, exceed them. At the same time, we will continue to do the very important work of sterilizing life-saving medical devices that benefit millions of patients across the nation and in the communities where we work and live.”
Trevino expressed confidence that things are heading in the right direction because of steps taken by Midwest Sterilization Corp. and efforts from the City of Laredo, the Rio Grande International Study Center and the Clean Air Laredo Coalition.
“This might go to show that because of all these efforts, I think some progress has been made. It looks like it’s becoming evident,” he said after the letter was read.