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Tags: Coronavirus | environment | covid-19

Are Efforts to 'Save the Environment!' Leaving People Defenseless on COVID?

environmental protection agency logo on a door
(William Perry/Dreamstime)

By    |   Monday, 27 July 2020 11:57 AM

No one has ever literally cut off their nose to spite their own face – but we humans seem doomed to an existence of perpetual nose-cutting. We're so eager to fix one problem and pat ourselves on the back for it that we don't realize our solution might great other, bigger problems.

So that first world environmentalists could feel good about themselves, they banned DDT in the developing world – so mosquitos were free to spread malaria. To preserve the endangered spotted owl, we protected its habitat – causing forest fires. This shows we really haven't figured things out since the Black Plague, when we killed cats because we thought they were devils – then we had no one to hunt the rats that spread the actual disease.

Now as another plague threatens everyone not lucky enough to live in New Zealand, every government agency and private business wants to be a part of the solution. And for us to achieve any kind of long-term success, the former needs to get out of the way of the latter.

One of the most pressing needs to protect people from COVID is sterilization of surfaces and equipment: counter-tops, tables, grocery carts, et cetera et cetera. This is of particular need in hospitals, where are found the most susceptible populations, the most pieces of equipment in need of regular sterilization, and the most germs. And standing in the way of the most effective way to mass sterilize is the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA has long had Ethylene Oxide (EtO) in its sights. A colorless gas used in a variety of products, including antifreeze and plastics, EtO is also critical for sterilizing equipment and plastic devices that can't be adequately cleaned with steam. Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA has restricted the use of EtO for its supposed nonconformance with air toxics emissions standards, requiring hospitals to follow rigorous controls to protect environment.  

Under normal circumstances, this kind of onerous regulation is annoying, but during the current pandemic it could kill thousands of people – the people that environmental regulations are supposed to protect. In March, the FDA swore to reduce our "over-reliance" on EtO, but with COVID raging on, we can't afford to be picky about where help comes from.

The EPA has been trying to shut down plants that manufacture and use EtO in Jefferson County, Texas, but the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) found in a study last year that the EPA was guilty of "statistically significant overestimation of risk" which could "lead to unintended societal consequences." This was months before anyone had even heard of COVID or we realized we'd need the resources for mass sterilization as never before.

The TCEQ continued that the EPA's "ill-founded concerns" about EtO's carcinogenic risk posed were a product of the EPA's "scientifically flawed assessment."

For example, breast cancer incidence in Jefferson County is dramatically lower than both the Texas and U.S. averages, despite the fact that EtO emissions are 60 times and 307 times higher than the respective averages, the TCEQ reported.

The EPA needs to end its war on EtO, which overburdened hospitals need if we are to indeed flatten the curve and save lives. Just about the only thing dumber would be, say, if the governor of New York ordered nursing homes to force nursing homes to take in COVID-positive patients.

This kind of short-sighted behavior, with all we know now, almost makes killing cats in the Black Plague seem like a good idea. The medical-device industry is rising to the occasion as never before to fight COVID. Let's get out of their way.

Jared Whitley is a long-time politico who has worked in the U.S. Congress, White House, and defense industry. He is an award-winning writer, having won best blogger in the state from the Utah Society of Professional Journalists (2018) and best columnist from Best of the West (2016). He earned his MBA from Hult International Business School in Dubai. Read Jared Whitley's reports — More Here.

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One of the most pressing needs to protect people from COVID is sterilization of surfaces and equipment: counter-tops, tables, grocery carts.
environment, covid-19
Monday, 27 July 2020 11:57 AM
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