Not Real News

On Friday, The Associated Press reported on stories circulating online incorrectly asserting COVID-19 tests, like the one seen here, cause cancer because they are sterilized with ethylene oxide. Ethylene oxide is a gas commonly used to sterilize medical equipment. It is also used in the sterilization of spices and cosmetics. While it is listed by federal agencies as a carcinogen with long-term exposure, experts say the gas is used only in small amounts to sterilize COVID testing kits and would not present cancer hazard.

THE FACTS: Ethylene oxide is a gas commonly used to sterilize medical equipment. It is also used in the sterilization of spices and cosmetics. While it is listed by federal agencies as a carcinogen with long-term exposure, experts say the gas is used only in small amounts to sterilize COVID testing kits and would not present cancer hazard. A video being shared online makes the claim citing nose swab tests used for COVID-19 detection. In the video, a man illustrates the point using a COVID-19 home test kit from the National Health Service in the United Kingdom, which has a label noting it was sterilized with ethylene oxide. “They are purposely killing us,” the man says. “It is one of the worst, worst chemicals for causing cancer and people are sticking it up their kids’ noses to get them into school.” But ethylene oxide is not a component of the test. Dr. Alexander Edwards, an associate professor in biomedical technology at the University of Reading in England, told The Associated Press that the gas is used in the sterilization process because it does not affect the product like heat or steam would when used in the sterilization process. “It’s not going to be present in any meaningful way at the time that you actually opened your test,” Edwards said. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ethylene oxide is often used to sterilize medical equipment that are moisture or heat sensitive. Posts making the false claims were shared on TikTok, Facebook and Instagram. “Did you know the con-vid 19 swab test contains a highly carcinogenic sterilizer called ethylene oxide? The most toxic cancer causing substance ever produced,” one Facebook said. The Department of Health and Social Care in the U.K. addressed the falsehood on Facebook. “There are false and misleading reports that lateral flow tests can give you cancer,” the post said. “These rapid #COVID19 tests have been rigorously tested and are safe.” The U.S. Food and Drug administration created strict standards for the use of ethylene oxide on medical devices after it was found that the gas could cause cancer with long-term and occupational exposure. Experts say there is no concern about the gas being left on COVID-19 tests. “It is not something that would linger on the product,” Edwards said.

— Associated Press writer Beatrice Dupuy in New York contributed this report