November 20, 2019

Following Duckworth’s Request, Federal Government Announces Preliminary Investigation into Toxic Pollution in Sauget


[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Following a letter sent by U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), co-founder of the Senate’s Environmental Justice Caucus, a federal agency within the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced it will conduct a preliminary investigation into potential health hazards in Sauget, Illinois, emanating from pollution near the Veolia North America-Trade Waste Incineration facility. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), which is the premier federal agency charged with protecting communities from public health threats related to exposure of natural and man-made hazardous substances, will conduct this preliminary investigation to help determine if the Sauget incinerator is posing a public health risk specifically related to metal poisoning.

The people of Sauget deserve a full investigation into the potential health concerns stemming from the weakening of pollution controls at a local waste facility and I’m encouraged by the announcement of a federal review of this very serious problem,” said Duckworth. “I’ll continue working to get to the bottom of it and I’m pleased the federal government will engage with Illinois EPA and the Illinois Department of Health to gather and review data.”

Duckworth also raised this issue during a Senate hearing in October with Sean O’Donnell, Nominee to be the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Inspector General. After ATSDR collects and analyzes the data, the agency will notify Senator Duckworth whether a full assessment of the public health risks posed by the Veolia North America-Trade Waste Incineration facility is feasible, or if ATSDR recommends additional data collection.

Last year, Senators Duckworth and Durbin, along with Representative Foster, wrote to the EPA asking that ATSDR conduct a health consultation in Willowbrook, Illinois after EPA’s National Air Toxics Assessment data indicated that there may be a higher than usual cancer risk there. That community was home to a sterilizer run by Sterigencis, which used a highly carcinogenic chemical called ethylene oxide. After the health consultation affirmed EPA’s initial finding that there was a cancer risk there, Willowbrook, Illinois EPA and Illinois Department of Public Health were able to take action to increase the monitoring requirements for sterilizers as well as require additional emission controls.

In April, Duckworth co-founded Senate’s first-ever Environmental Justice Caucus to raise awareness of the many environmental and pollution issues that have created public health challenges, which disproportionately impact low income communities and communities of color, including lead and metal poisoning. Duckworth also helped introduce the Environmental Justice Act of 2019 earlier this year to require federal agencies to mitigate environmental injustices through agency action and would strengthen the legal protections of those affected by environmental injustices.