Regulatory Update: NAM Pushes Back on Restrictive Chemical Rule

As part of an effort to bring more information about the regulatory and legal environment facing American manufacturers, NFPA is monitoring the newsfeed of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and will be bringing important updates like this to the attention of NFPA members.

The Environmental Protection Agency is considering an effective ban of a chemical compound called ethylene oxide. However, abruptly eliminating the chemical from use could have profound negative consequences for manufacturers and make modern life much more difficult.

The background: Ethylene oxide is a chemical used in a wide range of products, from textiles to plastics to antifreeze. It’s also used to sterilize certain medical devices—and in some cases, it’s the only chemical effective for that purpose.

The problem: The EPA is considering a new regulation that would set the acceptable levels of the chemical in the atmosphere so low that it amounts to a ban on the compound.

“If you took a monitor outside in any U.S. city center, where no manufacturing production occurs, the level of ethylene oxide would be higher than the level the EPA is proposing,” said NAM Vice President of Domestic Policy Brandon Farris.

“So anywhere that manufactures or uses ethylene oxide would be above the level they’re suggesting. The EPA is effectively banning it by creating a level that’s so low it can’t possibly be met.”

The impact: Because there are no current substitutes for some uses of ethylene oxide, a de facto ban would have immediate and serious impacts.

“If this rule is finalized, a large number of medical devices could no longer be sterilized, and a lot of items that are relied on for modern life, such as textiles, plastics, household cleaners and adhesives, could not be produced in their current form,” said Farris. “If the EPA moves forward with this proposal, there will be no alternatives for the critical uses of this compound.”

The timeline: The final rule is expected to be released in the next few months. If the EPA chooses to finalize the rule in its current form—which would create a de facto ban on production and usage—manufacturers would be required to find a replacement for the chemical immediately. Developing a replacement in such a short amount of time will be difficult if not impossible.

“One of the problems with creating a regulatory timeline for replacement is that science doesn’t work on an agency’s timeframe,” said Farris. “With no off-the-shelf substitute, it could take years to replace essential products, if we’re able to replace them at all.”

Our actions: The NAM is pushing back aggressively on this rule and raising manufacturers’ concerns with the White House, Congress and the EPA.

The bottom line: “This as proposed is a bad regulation,” said Farris. “Policymakers need to go back to the drawing board, recognize the critical applications of ethylene oxide and develop a proposal that is grounded in reality.”


The NAM, members of the NAM’s Council of Manufacturing Associations and Conference of State Manufacturers Associations recently launched Manufacturers for Sensible Regulations, a coalition addressing the impact of the current regulatory onslaught coming from federal agencies. To learn more, and get involved, go here.

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