In 2018, Alexandra Collins, 16, discovered that for 30 years industrial sterilization company Sterigenics had been emitting high levels of ethylene oxide (EtO) — a colorless gas that is a known carcinogen — near homes and schools in her neighborhood in Hinsdale, Illinois. Alexandra’s community suffers from a cancer rate nearly nine times the national average. After learning that many students and teachers were unaware of the danger EtO posed, Alexandra and her sister cofounded Students Against Ethylene Oxide (SAEtO), which harnesses the energy of young people to fight for a ban of ethylene oxide emissions, particularly near schools and residential areas.
Through SAEtO, Alexandra educates students and others about the cancer risks associated with EtO and about safer sterilization methods for both medical and commercial products. She also organizes letter-writing campaigns and protests, engages in judicial and legislative hearings, and lobbies government officials. In the fall of 2019, SAEtO and allied community groups persuaded the Sterigenics facility near Alexandra’s home to close.
Recently, Alexandra also helped launched SAEtO’s first specialized project, EtO-Free. The project’s all-girl team coded and designed a website that reviews EtO-free beauty products and aims to empower girls and women to push for transparency in product manufacturing and labeling.