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Why is Everyone Freaking Out About Ethylene Oxide?

Ethylene oxide (also known as EtO) is a carcinogen. Carcinogens are substances that cause cancer by changing the structure of DNA. Not all humans who come into contact with carcinogens will develop cancer. It all depends on the length and intensity of their exposure, their genetic makeup, and the way in which they were exposed.

If you live in the Covington, Georgia or Smyrna, Georgia area and believe you have been exposed, here are some answers to the most commonly asked questions regarding the ethylene oxide exposure:

What is ethylene oxide? Ethylene oxide (EtO) is a flammable, colorless gas at temperatures above 51.3 ºF (10.7 ºC) that smells like ether at toxic levels. EtO is found in the production of solvents, antifreeze, textiles, detergents, adhesives, polyurethane foam, and pharmaceuticals. Smaller amounts are present in fumigants, sterilants for spices and cosmetics, as well as during hospital sterilization of surgical equipment.

How can ethylene oxide harm those that are exposed? In addition to eye pain and sore throat, exposure to EtO can cause difficult breathing and blurred vision. Exposure can also cause dizziness, nausea, headache, convulsions, blisters and can result in vomiting and coughing. Both human and animal studies show that EtO is a carcinogen that may cause leukemia and other cancers. EtO is also linked to spontaneous abortion, genetic damage, nerve damage, peripheral paralysis, muscle weakness, as well as impaired thinking and memory. In liquid form, EtO can cause severe skin irritation upon prolonged or confined contact.

What are the symptoms of ethylene oxide? Ethylene oxide is a highly reactive alkylating agent that reacts with many constituents of tissue resulting in cellular and tissue dysfunction and destruction. Evidence for human exposure to this chemical is the presence of ethylene oxide adducts of DNA and hemoglobin. Direct contact with liquid ethylene oxide or solutions of ethylene oxide produces immediate local irritation of skin and mucous membranes. Inhalation of high concentrations of ethylene oxide can cause CNS depression or pulmonary edema. The onset of symptoms may be delayed for up to 72 hours. Initially, ethylene oxide affects the nose and throat. Concentrations as low as 200 ppm produce rapid onset of nose and throat irritation. Higher concentrations may cause inflammation of the lining in the trachea and bronchi, narrowing of the bronchi, and partial lung collapse. Accumulation of fluid in the lungs may evolve up to 72 hours after exposure. Severe respiratory distress may lead to cardiovascular collapse. High-dose exposures can result in diverse neurologic manifestations including seizures, loss of consciousness, and coma. Onset of neurologic signs and symptoms may be delayed 6 hours or more after exposure. Respiratory paralysis and delayed peripheral nerve damage have been reported after massive exposure. Exposure to low vapor concentrations of ethylene oxide can result in nausea and vomiting, which is often delayed. Inhalation and skin exposure may cause exposed individuals to become sensitized to ethylene oxide which could result in allergic contact dermatitis following subsequent skin exposures. Skin burns may result in scarring or increased pigment. Cataracts may develop after a serious eye exposure. Repeated contact of patients with medical equipment sterilized with ethylene oxide (e.g., dialysis patients) may lead to sensitization and an immediate, life-threatening allergic reaction. Inhalation does not normally lead to permanent neurological damage, but in one case, coma was followed by an irreversible parkinsonism. Survivors of severe inhalation injury may suffer residual chronic lung disease. Chronic exposure to ethylene oxide can result in headache, numbness of the extremities, muscular weakness, impaired gait, skin sensitization, numbing of the sense of smell and taste, staggering, increased fatigability, and an increased susceptibility for respiratory infection; these symptoms usually clear within months of terminating exposure. Long-term exposure has also been linked to increased rates of leukemia. Ethylene oxide has been implicated as a causal agent for the formation of cataracts.

What types of cancer does ethylene oxide cause? People living and working within approximately two miles of a facility that uses ethylene oxide (like Sterigenics and the BD plant) may have been exposed to EtO. Many have reported being diagnosed with one of the below cancers: Lymphoma Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Leukemia Breast Cancer Lung Cancer Brain Cancer Uterine Cancer

What areas in Georgia have been exposed to ethylene oxide? Georgia has three affected areas, two in the Smyrna area and one in Covington. It is estimated that around Smyrna, ethylene oxide causes 114 extra cases of cancer for every million people exposed over their lifetimes. In Covington, it estimated the gas causes 214 cases for every million people exposed. In the neighborhoods that have been impacted in Georgia, in the metro Atlanta area, residents are just now hearing about the emission hazard, almost a year after the federal government released its official list of the affected areas.

Who is most at risk for ethylene oxide exposure? Humans are most likely to inhale or ingest EtO on the job. However, those living in communities where exposure happens are just as likely to develop cancerous issues as those working closely with the toxic gas.

If you have been exposed to ethylene oxide and have been diagnosed with any of the cancers mentioned above, let our toxic tort attorneys help you with your ethylene oxide claim. Anyone living or working within two miles of Sterigenics or the BD plant may have been exposed to the ethylene oxide emissions and could possibly have a potential toxic tort claim. Let our Smyrna Ethylene Oxide Lawyers and our Covington Ethylene Oxide Attorneys help you today!

Call our team at (404) 355-4000 or Live Chat with us now to talk about your ethylene oxide exposure case.


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