March 27, 2019

Duckworth, Durbin, Carper Demand Information on EPA’s Handling of Ethylene Oxide Science Review, Sterigenics Emissions Release Oversight


[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Tom Carper (D-DE), top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW), sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler seeking information related to the agency’s recent decision to question EPA career staff’s assessment of the health risks and political appointees’ handling of potentially illegal releases of ethylene oxide (EtO), a chemical identified by EPA as a carcinogen. In the letter, the senators request documents shedding light on the Trump EPA’s enforcement efforts at the Sterigenics Illinois plant and its management of risks posed by EtO at facilities nationwide.  The Senators also request all documents related to EPA’s decision to request comments on and potentially re-assess EPA’s 2016 conclusion that the chemical is carcinogenic, a topic that is likely to be raised at today’s EPA public hearing.   

 “Recent newspaper reports document the potential for higher cancer rates coincident with higher detected levels of EtO near the Sterigenics facility in Illinois,” the senators write. “These reports further express concern that EPA political officials may have directed EPA career staff to cease inspecting facilities using the chemical and refused to take immediate action.  These news stories, and the resulting lack of public confidence in EPA’s enforcement efforts, led the Governor of Illinois to direct the owner of the facility to cease using EtO last month. EPA concluded in 2016 that its ‘confidence in the hazard characterization of EtO as “carcinogenic to humans” is high.’ EPA now appears to be entertaining the American Chemistry Council’s September, 2018 request to re-assess this conclusion, and the agency has formally requested public comment on whether EPA’s 2016 conclusion is accurate in a recent regulatory proceeding.”

 In January, Senator Duckworth’s staff received information alleging that senior political appointees at EPA instructed career officials to avoid conducting inspections of facilities that emit EtO. Senators Carper, Duckworth and Durbin requested an EPA Inspector General investigation into these allegations.

A PDF of the letter can be found HERE.