Nikki Browne and her two-year-old and five-year-old daughters live only a block away from Terumo BCT Sterilization Services in Lakewood, a company that manufactures medical devices to treat …
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Nikki Browne and her two-year-old and five-year-old daughters live only a block away from Terumo BCT Sterilization Services in Lakewood, a company that manufactures medical devices to treat critically ill patients. Her daughters are like any other children and love to run around and play with each other in the backyard of her house.
Browne said she was “shocked” when she found out that 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).
“I’m extremely concerned, and I’m mad. I’ve been trying to keep my daughters safe with everything in their body, and then to find out they could be breathing in toxins? It’s absolutely frustrating, and it’s terrifying to me now since that report came out,” Browne said.
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., is around 57,000 square-feet and 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.
“Safety and health are top priorities for our associates, our community and the patients we ultimately serve… We work vigorously to minimize impact on the environment,” Rusty Spinney, executive vice president of global operations for Terumo BCT said.
Tom Gulland, director of factory operations for Terumo BCT said it formed a team to determine a way to lower emissions. CDPHE is in the process of taking air samples that will measure actual exposures in the area surrounding the Lakewood location. Once that data is collected, a health risk assessment will be conducted. The results from the air samples are expected to be released by mid-September.
“The EPA’s findings are computer modeled. What they have really done is identified something that needs more study. Right now, we’ve identified something that may be a problem, at least in the plant itself. We have no evidence that there are any consequences for the neighborhood, but we want to find out what is being admitted to the neighborhood,” Jefferson County Public Health Executive Director Mark Johnson said.
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. Dr. Larry Wok, chief medical officer and executive director of CDPHE said the state health department’s cancer registry assessed cancer incidence the week of Aug. 13 in the area of Terumo BCT and found that those cancers in the area were not elevated.
“I saw (the EPA report), and I was like `yeah great, what a bunch of idiots.’” Lakewood resident Bill Foltyn said, insulting Terumo. He lives one mile from the factory.
“The EPA is set up for a reason. I like when there is accountability for toxic levels of chemicals,” Foltyn said.
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