September 27, 2018

Duckworth, Durbin & Foster Statement on EPA Testing Air Quality in Willowbrook for Cancer-Causing Emissions

Residents of Willowbrook, Illinois near Sterigenics facilities have second highest risk of cancer of anywhere in U.S.


Today, the EPA notified U.S. Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Representative Bill Foster (D-IL-11) that they have begun testing air quality near Willowbrook-based Sterigenics for emissions of ethylene oxide, which has been linked to elevated rates of a cancer and is classified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a known carcinogen. Sterigenics uses ethylene oxide to sterilize medical products and equipment. According to the 2014 National Air Toxins Assessment map, residents of Willowbrook have the second highest risk of cancer of any community in the country.

“It’s alarming that residents near Willowbrook-based Sterigenics may have the second highest risk of cancer in the country,” said Senators Duckworth and Durbin. “We are relieved the U.S. EPA agreed to our request to immediately test local air quality for ethylene oxide, a cancer-causing chemical that is produced at the plant, and that they are verifying whether Sterigenics’ new pollution controls are reducing harmful emissions. The agency must share all of these test results publicly and it must explain why it abruptly deleted information from its website explaining whether the company’s toxic chemical emissions could be a public health hazard. To determine if community residents are still at risk, Sterigenics must also provide personal exposure tests to those that live near its facilities as we have previously requested.” 

“While the initial stack test indications may be encouraging, we need quantitative results that verify the 90% reduction of emissions estimated by Sterigenics,” Congressman Foster said. “Then, the community needs an explanation of what these results mean in terms of the long-term health impact for nearby residents. Finally, we also need a plan to detect and monitor non-stack emissions of ethylene oxide to ensure safe levels in Willowbrook and the surrounding areas.”

Earlier this week, Duckworth, Durbin and Foster had requested the EPA and Sterigenics begin testing local air quality for harmful emissions and make their results available to the general public – and that the company provide personal exposure tests to Willowbrook residents. The Members of Congress also asked the EPA to begin testing for ethylene oxide emissions across the country and to explain why information produced by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry on the potential public health hazards posed by Sterigenics’ ethylene oxide emissions was abruptly removed from the EPA’s website, noting how that has caused confusion, anxiety and hardship on the neighboring community.

A copy of the letter the EPA sent the Members of Congress today is available online here.