Louisiana has significantly elevated levels of ethylene oxide in the air, a cancer-causing toxic gas, detected at concentrations thousands of times higher than what is deemed safe, a report revealed.

As per the latest study conducted by the research team from Johns Hopkins University, the air in the industrialized stretch of southeast Louisiana dubbed "cancer alley" has 20 times higher concentrations of carcinogenic ethylene oxide than previously expected.

The significantly high toxic chemical in the air raises health concerns for residents and workers in the region, especially children living in the industrial corridor that stretches between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. The study results were published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

"I don't think there's any census track in the area that wasn't at higher risk for cancer than we would deem acceptable. We expected to see ethylene oxide in this area. But we didn't expect the levels that we saw, and they certainly were much, much higher than EPA's estimated levels," senior author Peter DeCarlo said in a news release.

Ethylene oxide, a crucial element in the manufacturing of antifreeze and polyester, is widely employed in various industrial applications, including the sterilization of food, cosmetics, and medical instruments, as well as its use as a pesticide.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identifies prolonged inhalation of ethylene oxide gas as a potential cancer hazard. It is associated with cancers such as lymphoma, leukemia, stomach cancer, and breast cancer.

"EPA looks forward to reviewing the study. Under the leadership of Administrator Regan, EPA has made important strides to protect the residents of Cancer Alley from dangerous toxic pollution including taking local enforcement action and finalizing national standards to reduce cancer risk in affected communities," the EPA statement read.

The study involved researchers using two vans equipped with advanced instruments capable of real-time gas measurement, utilizing high-intensity light technology. These vans traveled identical routes repeatedly over a month in the previous year. Despite employing two different instruments, both vans produced similar results, which indicated the accuracy of their testing methodology.

The researchers noted that all the readings exceeded 11 parts of ethylene oxide per 1 trillion parts of air, the level corresponding to a one in 10,000 cancer risk with prolonged exposure to the gas. This level represents the upper limit of what the EPA considers acceptable for numerous air toxins and carcinogens.

"Our findings have really important implications for community residents, especially infants and children. Ethylene oxide has been shown to directly damage DNA, meaning that exposures that occur in early life are more dangerous," said Keeve Nachman, associate professor of Environmental Health and Engineering and the co-director of the Risk Sciences and Public Policy Institute.