Duckworth, Durbin Ask DHS to Recognize Security Risks of Ethylene Oxide
[WASHINGTON, D.C.] — Following a number of fires and explosions at facilities that produce ethylene oxide (EtO), U.S. Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) asked the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) today to revise its characterization of EtO as part of its “Chemicals of Interest” list, which is required under the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standard. The list characterizes EtO as a flammable chemical and should also recognize its explosive quality. However, DHS does not classify EtO as representing an explosives threat even though EtO is used as fuel in thermobaric munitions, also known as fuel-air explosives. This is contrary to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which describes EtO as “a colorless gas that is flammable and explosive” in guidelines for healthcare facilities.
“EtO has been involved in incidents resulting in major plant damage as well as fatalities,” the Senators wrote in a letter to DHS Secretary Kristjen Nielsen. “This update will harmonize [DHS’] description of EtO with the commonly accepted understanding that EtO poses an explosive hazard in chemical facility settings. In addition, DHS should continually evaluate and update, as necessary, the categorization of all chemicals of interest to ensure risk-assessment matches the best available science.”
Duckworth and Durbin noted in their letter that a Royal Dutch Shell facility in Amsterdam that was exceeding its EtO emissions limit was the site of a fire and an explosion last month. That incident was similar to an explosion that took place at a California EtO sterilization facility operated by Sterigenics in 2004.
EtO is classified by the EPA as a known carcinogen and has been linked to higher incidences of certain cancers. Duckworth and Durbin have been strong advocates for residents in Illinois communities with EtO-emitting facilities, pressing the agency to take immediate action to protect residents and to begin ambient air quality monitoring to alert residents to potential public health threats. They have also repeatedly called for the EPA to update its safety standards that regulate emissions of the carcinogen.
A full copy of the letter is available online here and below.
Dear Secretary Nielsen:
We write to request that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Cyber and Infrastructure Division categorize ethylene oxide (EtO), which is among the DHS chemicals of interest (COI) under the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) program, as “Security Issue: Release – Explosives” in addition to its current status as a “Security Issue: Release – Flammables.”
This update will harmonize the CFATS COI Appendix A’s description of EtO with the commonly accepted understanding that EtO poses an explosive hazard in chemical facility settings. As the American Chemistry Council noted, “[ethylene oxide] has been involved in incidents in both [ethylene oxide] productions plants and [ethylene oxide] consuming plants resulting in major plant damage as well as fatalities.”
As recently as last month, a Royal Dutch Shell facility in Amsterdam that was already found to be exceeding its EtO emissions limit was also the site of a fire and explosion. This incident was similar to an explosion that took place at a California EtO sterilization facility operated by Sterigenics in 2004.
These incidents involving fires and explosions at EtO chemical facilities warrant DHS updating the CFATS COI Appendix A to recognize the explosive quality of this specific COI. In addition, DHS should continually evaluate and update, as necessary, the categorization of all COI to ensure risk-assessment matches the best available science. We thank you for your assistance and attention to this request.
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