December 07, 2018

Duckworth: EPA’s Confirmation of High Levels of Ethylene Oxide Near Sterigenics Proves Need for Greater Government Transparency & Further Action


[WILLOWBROOK, IL] – After U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) repeatedly called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to be transparent and publicly release its data showing levels of toxic ethylene oxide (EtO) in the air surrounding Sterigenics’ Willowbrook medical sterilization facility, the EPA finally announced today that it had—as suspected—found levels of the carcinogen high enough to cause a public health risk for Illinoisans living nearby. Duckworth issued the following statement regarding today’s EPA announcement:

“This transparency from EPA is long overdue. We now have confirmation that despite Sterigenics’ efforts to limit and scrub EtO emissions, the dangerous toxin remains a public health risk for the citizens of Willowbrook and surrounding communities. After visiting the area and hearing from concerned citizens in these communities last week, it’s clear that increased transparency from EPA is only a minor first step, and EPA must take swift action to mitigate this public health threat to Illinois.”

Last week, Senator Duckworth hosted roundtable discussion in DuPage County where she heard from Willowbrook-area residents affected by EtO exposure from Sterigenics. Duckworth and Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) along with U.S. Representatives Brad Schneider (D-IL-10), Dan Lipinski (D-IL-03) and Bill Foster (D-IL-11), introduced the Expanding Transparency of Information and Safeguarding Toxics (EtO is Toxic) Act of 2018 as well last week, a bill that would close existing loopholes that both benefit the chemical industry and allow the EPA to do nothing if a risk assessment they conduct finds that a chemical is more harmful than previously thought. In addition, the bill increases transparency, data and public health requirements for chemicals that may present a public health risk.

The Members of Congress also introduced a bill last week that would require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to revise EtO emissions standards for medical sterilization and chemical facilities, which have been the source of harmful emissions in Illinois. The bill also requires the EPA to notify the public no more than 30 days after it learns that the new standards have been violated. The bills are additional steps in a series of actions from the Members of Congress to push the EPA to do more to protect Illinois families from exposure to cancer-causing emissions like ethylene oxide, which are emitted by several facilities in Illinois’s DuPage and Lake Counties.

Duckworth, Durbin, Foster and Schneider previously met with EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler to urge his agency to update the safety standards regarding ethylene oxide and to assess EtO exposure nationwide – and Duckworth also wrote to Wheeler demanding more transparency from the EPA. Duckworth and Durbin have also written to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requesting the agency do more to protect American workers from ethylene oxide and explore alternatives for sterilization and, along with Foster and Schneider, they asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) convene an interagency task force to examine alternatives to ethylene oxide.

After it first came to light that residents living near DuPage County’s Sterigenics facility had a higher risk of cancer due to Sterigenics’ emissions of ethylene oxide, Duckworth, Durbin and Foster asked the EPA and Sterigenics to test local air quality and make their results available to the general public, prompting the EPA to begin testing air quality. The three have also asked the EPA Inspector General to investigate if EPA complied with all requirements and protocols when it intentionally withheld critical health information from the public about the cancer risks posed by Sterigenics – and they’ve asked the EPA to fund DuPage County public health efforts. Meanwhile, Durbin, Duckworth and Schneider have asked the EPA to perform updated air sampling and modeling studies to determine the cancer risks at two additional facilities in Lake County, Illinois, that release ethylene oxide emissions.