Let the Devil Wear Black - Memoirs of an analyst

James F. Linden - Writer ...
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Resources - EO/PO dangers

Just how dangerous are ethylene oxide and propylene oxide?

Chapter 20

Whilst I worked for the company, I wasn’t told how dangerous ethylene oxide (EO) or propylene oxide (PO) were. The fact that they are both carcinogens was not mentioned, let alone anything else.

It was in 1996, when I was doing the background preparative research for the local newspaper that I found the dangerous chemicals book in the local reference library and looked them up.

You can see the whole page — Charts 230 — as photocopied in the library with EO at the bottom.

This is a close–up of EO on that page and you can see the CHIP classification includes Carcinogen category 2; R46 and Mutagen category 2; R46 with the box on the right requiring CHIP labelling with ‘Risk Phrases’ 45 and 46.

This is the whole page — Charts 416 — again, as photocopied in the library on that day with PO at the bottom of the page.

Again, the close–up of the PO section and you can see that the CHIP classification includes Carcinogen category 2; R46 with the box on the right requiring CHIP labelling with Risk Phrase 45.

The risk phrases are grouped together in their own section:

R45 ‘May cause cancer’ for EO and PO but, perhaps more interestingly and only for EO; R46 ‘May cause heritable genetic damage’.

None of us really have any idea as to the extent to which we were exposed to EO and PO over the years. They both have only a slight smell and then only in high concentrations so the amounts that we were exposed to on a continual basis is unknown — especially when you consider what happened on the Pockle storage facility and then, only when the concentration became high enough for us to notice that something might be wrong.

How many other times were there and who else had been exposed?

Interestingly, around a year later — after the newspaper had printed what it did — I was in the city centre and thought about something related to this for which I needed to have a look at the entries for the chemicals again so I went into the reference library again and found the dangerous chemicals book. so that I could have a look. However, this time, the pages that had EO and PO on them had been removed.

Curious, that.

This was just the frightfully civilised prelude — a mendacious fa├žade — covering over the bloody battle to come.

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