May 28, 2021

Duckworth, Durbin, Schneider Introduce Bill To Update Ethylene Oxide Emissions Standards

Members introduce bicameral bill on heels of EPA OIG report detailing Trump Administration’s negligence of ethylene oxide emissions threat


[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Representative Brad Schneider (D-IL-10) introduced a bicameral bill that would require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to update ethylene oxide (EtO) emissions standards to reflect the stricter criteria outlined in a 2016 EPA study.  Under the bill, any updates to the emissions standards would have to incorporate the maximum achievable control technology requirements to exhaust vents and apply to both area and major sources, which covers plants like Sterigenics in Willowbrook, Illinois, Medline in Waukegan, Illinois, and Vantage in Gurnee, Illinois.  It would also require EPA to undergo a residual risk assessment following implementation of the new rule, which is a stringent and public-health focused review of the rule’s impacts.

“Hardworking families in Illinois and across the nation remain at risk of exposure to ethylene oxide,” Duckworth said. “I’m proud to join Senator Durbin and Representative Schneider in introducing this important bill that would update ethylene oxide emissions standards so that EPA has the authority to protect vulnerable communities from this harmful pollutant.” 

“After years of neglect and excuses, we finally have leadership at EPA that can take the public health threat of EtO seriously. Our bill makes a straightforward and long overdue change to ethylene oxide emissions standards so we can better protect the public health of Illinoisans from this carcinogen. There’s no excuse to delay any longer,” Durbin said.

“After years of the Trump Administration ignoring the EtO problem, the EPA needs to urgently take all necessary and appropriate steps to protect our communities from the risks of exposure to ethylene oxide – a known carcinogen. Our legislation would require the EPA to immediately update its ethylene oxide emission standards based on the science and guided by public health, as well as act transparently so affected communities have the most up to date information on any risks. This is about our public health, and delay is unacceptable,” said Schneider.

In April, the EPA Office of Inspector General (OIG) released a report detailing how Trump Administration political appointees hindered EPA Region 5’s efforts to monitor and address EtO emissions in Illinois.  Duckworth, Durbin and U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) requested this investigation in November 2018.  According to the report, the appointees instructed managers and career staff at EPA Region 5 to not inspect EtO-emitting facilities unless invited to do so by the state.  The report also revealed that Trump’s EPA delayed communicating potential health risks to Illinois residents who lived near EtO-emitting facilities, including those in Willowbrook, Waukegan, and Gurnee. 

EtO is a chemical sterilizer used most often to sterilize medical devices. A 2016 EPA IRIS study confirmed that EtO was more carcinogenic than originally thought and indicated a connection between EtO exposure and the development of some cancers.