Lake County Gazette

Lake County Gazette

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Chemist: Coronavirus patients rely on one of media’s favorite enemies, ethylene oxide


By W.J. Kennedy | Mar 23, 2020

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The chemical compound ethylene oxide could aid victims of the coronavirus. | Pixabay

It turns out that a chemical compound ethylene oxide (, etEtO), that has been targeted by the media and some elected officials as a public health hazard, is vital in ensuring that patients suffering from coronavirus infections have safe, sterilized medical equipment to aid in their recoveries, says chemist and air quality expert Rich Trzupek.

“Ethylene oxide is the only choice we have when it comes to treating some medical devices,” Trzupek told the Lake County Gazette. “A lot of devices can’t be autoclaved [steam sterilized].”

Among the medical devices that can only be sterilized by EtO are endotracheal tubes that are inserted into airways, and then attached to ventilators to assist the sickest coronavirus patients with breathing. Catheters, syringes and other medical devices a patient needs to help in recovery from a coronavirus infection are also sterilized using EtO.

In October one of the Illinois companies using EtO, Sterigenics, permanently shut down its Willowbrook operations after being hounded by the media, lawmakers and regulatory bodies over its emissions of the compound – emissions that the company, Trzupek and other scientists insisted pose no danger to the public.

Another firm that uses EtO in sterilization, Medline in Waukegan, is working hard trying to keep up with demand for medical supplies during the coronavirus emergency, company spokesman Jesse Greenberg said.

“A supply constriction [caused by the virus spread in China] combined with the unprecedented global need for personal protective equipment due to the coronavirus pandemic has us focused on ensuring current Medline healthcare customers have the essential supplies they need to protect both patients and staff,” Greenberg said. “We have put in place inventory management programs and allocations to protect as much inventory as possible for our customers. In addition, we are actively working on options to increase production in other areas of our global supply chain, while diligently monitoring the situation in Southeast Asia.”

Greenberg added that expansion of the company’s operations in the U.S. would help prevent future supply disruptions, and a “clear, reliable” regulatory structure would help smooth the way for that expansion. 

Two weeks ago the company announced a plan to bring 600 employees to Libertyville as part of a move to a new national sales support center.

The company also said that it has increased its overall job numbers in the Chicago area by 34% in the past three years, growing from 3,450 employees at the end of 2017 to 4,650 employees at the start of 2020.

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