Ethylene Oxide (Carcinogen) in LFD Test Kits

Ethylene Oxide (Carcinogen) in LFD Test Kits:

On Friday and over the weekend, the Health, Safety & Environment Department picked up a ‘conspiracy theory’ rumour circulating on social media which was gathering a degree of momentum and is causing concerns leading to enquiries with CWU/HQ.

The background to this is that on the NHS ‘Test and Trace’ Covid-19 Lateral Flow Device Self-Test Kit boxes is the stamp “STERILE|EO” and this refers to the chemical disinfectant “Ethylene Oxide”.

Ethylene Oxide is carcinogenic to humans by the inhalation route of exposure and can cause lung damage plus evidence indicates that exposure increases the risk of lymphoid, white blood cell cancers, including non-Hodgkin lymphoma, myeloma, and lymphocytic leukaemia cancer and breast cancer.

Social media stories centred on children being tested by LFD kits and there are videos of people claiming that carcinogenic Ethylene Oxide laced swabs are being used to test children in schools and urged parents to put a stop to it!

Additionally, there were articles on the internet claiming that the general population may be exposed to this carcinogen substance through the use of medical products that have been sterilized with Ethylene Oxide.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the National Health Service (NHS) responded to these cancer rumours following what they described as ‘false reports’ that the Lateral Flow Tests cause cancer.

The DHSC issued a statement on Saturday morning to the effect that “Lateral Flow Device Covid-19 Coronavirus tests used by schools and by workers and others are completely safe and do not cause cancer.” The DHSC government department added “There are false reports that Lateral Flow Tests can give you cancer. These rapid Covid-19 tests have been rigorously tested and are safe. The swabs are sterilised with Ethylene Oxide to ensure they are safe to use. It is one of the most commonly used sterilisation tools.”

The NHS confirmed that Ethylene Oxide has been used for decades as a sterilisation agent and is used to destroy all forms of microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, etc.

At the request of the CWU Health, Safety & Environment Department, Royal Mail raised the matter with the DHSC in the context of both Royal Mail’s Test Kits Collection and Delivery Contract and importantly the Workforce Testing Pilot/Trials currently underway involving CWU members, seeking a 100% guarantee of safety in respect of our members in Royal Mail and Parcelforce.

The DHSC responded that Lateral Flow Tests have been rigorously tested and are safe to use on a regular basis. Ethylene Oxide is only used in the sterilisation of swabs and it is one of the most commonly used sterilisation tools in the NHS and healthcare industry, principally applied by manufacturers to keep medical devices safe. LFD tests are approved for use by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the UK’s regulator of medicines and medical devices, responsible for ensuring their safety, quality and effectiveness. Lateral Flow Tests have also been certified safe to use both in the EU and UK. The LFD Tests as with Test Kits and any medical device used within the NHS, using the routine Ethylene Oxide sterilization of health care products is governed by international standards ISO 11135 and ISO 10993-7 as well as World Health Organisation (WHO) standards and any traces of Ethylene Oxide remaining in the Lateral Flow Device or packaging after sterilisation are significantly below limits that would be considered hazardous for health and comply with national and international safety standards.

See attached Statement/FAQ provided to Royal Mail and the CWU by DHSC. 

Yours sincerely

Dave Joyce
National Health, Safety & Environment Officer

LTB 137/21 – Ethylene Oxide (Carcinogen) in LFD Test Kits

DHSC have provided the following FAQ on the subject of Ethylene Oxide in Lateral Flow Device Test Kits

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