Invisible Chemical Is Poisoning Thousands Of Unsuspecting Warehouse Workers

"Medical supply warehouses can be a significant source of cancer-causing ethylene oxide emissions. Only one state is doing anything about it."

"The bruises on Alexandria Pittman’s body wouldn’t go away. Nor would the aches that plagued her at her new job at a distribution center in Lithia Springs, a small town 17 miles west of Atlanta, sorting and repackaging boxes containing medical devices. She was convinced the symptoms were connected to the job.

Pittman had applied to the position at the warehouse, run by the medical supply company ConMed, after learning about the opening from her fiancé, Derek Mitchell, who delivered products there. Every day she’d come home and complain to him about the mysterious aches and marks. At first, Mitchell tried to reassure her, guessing that the bruises were probably from bumping up against something. “I really didn’t think nothing of it,” he recalled.

Then, in the spring of 2019, came a surprising revelation. ConMed managers announced that the seemingly innocuous products in the boxes they were packaging had been sterilized with ethylene oxide, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers a carcinogen and is linked to lung and breast cancers as well as diseases of the nervous system. Suddenly, Pittman began connecting the dots between her symptoms and those of her colleagues. It would later emerge that at least 50 warehouse workers experienced a slew of health effects tied to ethylene oxide exposure, including seizures, vomiting, and trouble breathing. Ambulances were routinely called to the facility after workers collapsed, convulsed from seizures, or broke out in hives. Several — including Pittman — developed cancer."

Naveena Sadasivam and Lylla Younes report for Grist in partnership with Atlanta News First February 29, 2024.

Source: Grist, 03/01/2024