Medline resumes operations at Illinois sterilization plant

Medline has resumed sterilizing medical supplies at its plant in Waukegan, Ill., about two months after it originally predicted, a company spokesperson told Becker's Hospital Review. 

Medline hadn't been sterilizing medical supplies with ethylene oxide since mid-December because it didn't finish construction needed to meet new state emission standards in time. 

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation last June that put strict limits on ethylene oxide emissions, which went into effect at the end of 2019. 

Ethylene oxide is a chemical used to sterilize more than half of the country's medical supplies, but it has been shown to increase risk of cancer in people if they're exposed to it for long periods of time.

Several medical supply sterilization plants were forced to close in 2019 as people who live near the plants filed numerous lawsuits against the companies that owned the plants claiming exposure to ethylene oxide caused their cancer. 

But the FDA has warned that closing plants could cause critical medical supply shortages, as there aren't many alternatives to ethylene oxide for properly sterilizing supplies. 

Medline originally predicted its Waukegan plant would reopen Jan. 27, but ended up resuming sterilization efforts March 27, company spokesperson Jesse Greenberg confirmed to Becker's. Medline spent about $10 million to improve its ethylene oxide emissions. 

The company is also starting a program to sterilize N95 masks in an effort to combat critical shortages of personal protective equipment hospitals and healthcare facilities across the country are facing.  

Mr. Greenberg said Medline's customers can send used N95 masks to Medline and Medline will determine if the masks are eligible to be sterilized and reused. After they are sterilized, Medline will send them back to its customers for reuse. 

Mr. Greenberg said the company can sterilize 100,000 masks per day. 

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