HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is warning the public of potentially harmful chemical emissions stemming from sterilization facilities scattered across 13 states and Puerto Rico. The agency’s list included Sterilization Services of Virginia — a Henrico-based medical sterilization plant.

Jeff Steers with the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) confirmed the company’s emission volume still complies with necessary legal obligations.

“They do have an air permit from the DEQ,” Steers said. “And they’re in full compliance with their current permit.”

The chemical in question is a flammable, colorless, gas called ethylene oxide. It’s commonly used to sterilize materials too fragile for heat-based sterilization. Dr. Elaine Perry — Health Director for the Richmond and Henrico Health Districts told 8News it’s not an uncommon carcinogen.

“It’s present pretty much everywhere,” Perry said. “We have ethylene oxide in our bodies in very, very small amounts.”

Heightened exposure to chemicals like ethylene oxide is tied to an increased risk of lymphatic and breast cancers. Perry noted the risk of developing cancer directly from the Henrico plant’s emissions is small and only applies to certain — very specific — circumstances.

“People who would be living, breathing in that air 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for 70 years,” Perry said.

Regarding proximity — Perry said those who live within 2-3 miles of the facility located on Eastport Boulevard in Henrico are the only ones who could face potential long-term impacts of prolonged exposure to the chemicals.

Signage outside of the Sterilization Services of Virginia, Inc. medical sterilization plant in Henrico. (Photo: Forrest Shelor, 8News)

While there’s no imminent threat — nor health code violations — local health experts emphasize it’s in the public’s best interest to reduce exposure to carcinogens.

“I completely support, and I think it’s important that everybody tries to reduce ethylene oxide emissions as much as possible,” Perry said.

The Department of Environmental Quality has been working in close contact with Sterilization Services of Virginia to monitor and minimize the site’s ethylene oxide emissions. The plant needs confirmation from the EPA on what their updated threshold for appropriate ethylene oxide emissions is before managers can determine how to appropriately allocate funds towards stronger treatment options.

“They need certainty of what the EPA wants to come up with before they investments into additional controls.” Steers said.