It has come to our attention that there are questions regarding the sanitation for some swabs used in COVID-19 testing. Due to supply chain shortages, we use multiple manufacturers of swabs, some of which are sanitized using ethylene oxide. We hope you find the following information to be helpful.
Here are some basic facts about EO (ethylene oxide):
Ethylene oxide has been used to sterilize medical equipment since the 1950’s. Over 50% of all medical equipment is sterilized with EO. EO has been established to be carcinogenic, but the concern is mostly within air pollution, as EO can be a major component of such.
Regarding medical disinfectant use of EO:
Medline Industries explains that medical inventory is first brought into the sterilization chamber and then, through several vacuum cycles, the air is removed. Afterward, nitrogen and steam are pumped in, and finally, ethylene oxide is injected into the chamber, which remains there approximately for 10-12 hours until the inventory is fully sterilized. After the sterilization process is complete, most of ethylene oxide is removed from the inventory through several vacuum cycles and pushing and pulling of nitrogen. Lastly, by adding water and sulfuric acid, ethylene oxide is transformed into ethylene glycol, which is used as antifreeze. There is no longer any of the EO (ethylene oxide) present, or if so, at such minuscule amounts, that it is not harmful.
In further evaluation for amounts of EO considered to be harmful, the EPA states that:
“The concentration of ethylene oxide associated with a 1-in-a-million cancer risk, for a lifetime of CONTINUOUS exposure, is 0.0002 ug/m3. The concentration of ethylene oxide associated with a 100-in-a-million cancer risk, for a lifetime of CONTINUOUS exposure, is 0.02 ug/m3. “
The EPA does not find exposure from disinfected medical equipment to be contributory to cancer.