Cancer-causing chemicals emitted from Fort Myers plant

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Chemicals from pollution in Fort Myers could put you more at risk for cancer.

The Lee Sars American Contract Systems plant is causing pollution near several businesses, neighborhoods and a school.

The cause: ethylene oxide

The facility has been running since 2011. It uses ethylene oxide — or ETO, used to sterilize medical equipment.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, cancers such as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leukemia and breast cancer are linked to ETO. There’s also evidence linking long-term exposure to reproductive health problems.

Scientists discovered how toxic ETO is in 2016. People learned this week that they’re breathing in that toxic air.

According to Dr. Nora Demers, professor of biology at FGCU, ETO does have beneficial uses, but it’s also toxic.

“The vast majority of sterilization is done in an autoclave, which is not emitting a gas, so what they’re doing is putting it into a machine, they’re turning up the temperature and pressure and hitting it with steam,” Demers said, “and that’s sterilizing it. That’s done routinely all the time, and the ethylene oxide treatment is for the things they cannot put in the autoclave.”

The EPA explained American Contract Systems currently does not control emissions but is working towards reducing them.

A Zoom meeting was held by experts with the EPA where scientists explained how people living near the plant could have an increased lifetime risk of cancer.

‘In the community’

“I think that the fact that everyone in the community is concerned is justified,” David Larson said, a parent who lives nearby.

Larson listened in on Zoom. He felt like he was sucker-punched when he found out he and his kids are breathing in ETO every day.

Map of ETO exposure CREDIT EPA

The bright orange spot is where the Lee Sars American Contract Systems plant is located, at 11600 Adelmo Lane.

The Page Park neighborhood, Evangelical Christian School and Hideaway Country Club are located nearby.

As the orange gets lighter, then turns blue, that indicates the cancer risk is lower.

“I think people feel like a little bit of, you know, left hook out of nowhere. Where it’s like, ‘Oh, man, I didn’t know it existed.’ Oh, and now all of a sudden, you want public comment,” Larson said.

Health protection

During the Zoom call, the EPA proposed new health protections to reduce emissions of ETO. They talked about additional emission control monitoring and added protection for workers exposed to the gas.

The facility will not be shut down by the federal government. The EPA said it’s working with Lee Sars and American Contract Systems to find ways to voluntarily implement emission controls.

The EPA said single-day exposure does not pose an immediate threat. Long-term exposure, however, increases the risk.

“Hopefully, you know, these companies know what they’re doing and have people’s best interest in mind. Hopefully, we don’t have another scenario where a company is going to be responsible for causing a lot of cancer and health issues,” Alexander Paraschuk from North Fort Myers said.

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