February 13, 2019

Duckworth, Durbin, Foster, Lipinski, Schneider & Casten Ask EPA to Take Immediate Actions to Protect Illinoisans from Sterigenics’ Cancer-Causing Emissions


[WASHINGTON, D.C.] — U.S. Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), along with U.S. Representatives Bill Foster (D-IL-11), Dan Lipinski (D-IL-03), Brad Schneider (D-IL-10) and Sean Casten (D-IL-06), asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take immediate steps to protect the community surrounding Sterigenics in Willowbrook, Illinois from the public health threat posed by its cancer-causing ethylene oxide (EtO) emissions. In a letter to Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, the members detailed a number of specific steps the EPA could take immediately, including updating its safety standards for EtO emissions, investigating whether Sterigenics has violated its chemical licensing requirements – which could result in both civil and criminal penalties – as well as opening a criminal investigation into allegations of misconduct against Sterigenics officials.

 “Alarming data published last week by EPA indicates that despite installing pollution control equipment, high levels of EtO were measured, threatening the health of Willowbrook residents. In one instance, the EtO detected was 350 times more than the level deemed safe by EPA,” the Members of Congress wrote. “It is time for EPA to move from fact-finding to acting on this public health threat in Willowbrook.”

 In their letter, the members asked the EPA to:

 Open a criminal investigation into allegations of misconduct raised by former employees against senior management at Sterigenics;

  1. Update safety standards regulating EtO emissions. The EPA has been ordered by a court to do this by 2020 but has the authority to act now;
  2. Investigate whether Sterigenics’ use, storage and disposal of EtO violated its registration under Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), which can result in civil and criminal fines;
  3. Audit Sterigenics’ EtO emissions using a third-party firm to ensure the company is not releasing more EtO emissions than is publicly known;
  4. Continue ambient air monitoring around Sterigenics beyond the current 3-month plan and release the results publicly;
  5. Commission a study on the background levels of EtO across the nation;
  6. Abandon its efforts to undermine EPA’s EtO risk assessment.

 The Illinois Senators and Members of Congress have been strong advocates for residents in Illinois communities with EtO-emitting facilities like Sterigenics and Medline and they have repeatedly called for the EPA to update its safety standards that regulate emissions of the carcinogen. They have had multiple meetings with top EPA officials over this public health crisis and EPA has held community meetings and begun monitoring air quality near Sterigenics at Duckworth and Durbin’s request.

 The Illinois Members of Congress also pressed Sterigenics for answers last week following a CBS Chicago report where ex-employees of Sterigenics alleged rampant wrong-doing by facility supervisors. Additonally, Duckworth and Durbin have requested the EPA Inspector General launch an independent investigation into whether the Trump EPA is failing to protect the American public from cancer-causing Ethylene Oxide (EtO) emissions after receiving information alleging that EPA senior political appointees instructed career civil servants to avoid conducting inspections of facilities that emit EtO in Region 5

 Full text of the letter is available here.