November 29, 2018

Duckworth, Foster, Durbin, Lipinski & Schneider Introduce Legislation to Close Loopholes That Allow EPA to Hide Health Risks of Chemicals From Public

Legislation would strengthen public health standards & increase transparency


[WASHINGTON D.C.] – U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and U.S. Representative Bill Foster (D-IL-11), along with Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Representatives Dan Lipinski (D-IL-03) and Brad Schneider (D-IL-10), today introduced legislation to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from hiding public health risks and require it to be more transparent with state and local health agencies and the American public. The Expanding Transparency of Information and Safeguarding Toxics (EtO is Toxic) Act of 2018 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.

“Not only did our government fail to protect many Illinoisans from breathing in toxic ethylene oxide emissions, but they were far too slow to inform the public about the health risks they face. Our bill would help ensure that never happens again,” said Duckworth.

“The EPA does critical work to protect Americans’ health and well-being and safeguard our air and water,” said Foster. “We need to ensure that when the EPA determines a chemical to be carcinogenic– such as ethylene oxide – that this information is communicated effectively and efficiently to protect human health. This legislation will ensure that the EPA utilizes the best available scientific data to evaluate chemicals in a transparent and methodical manner and communicate their findings with appropriate federal, state, and local officials. The people of Illinois and our nation deserve a government that will use the most effective tools and procedures to protect their health.”  

The bill is the latest 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.

“The EPA failed residents of DuPage County and Lake County when it didn’t notify them in a timely manner of dangerously high levels of ethylene oxide being emitted by three medical sterilization facilities in the area,” Durbin said. “The bill Senator Duckworth, Representatives Foster, Lipinski, Schneider, and I introduced today will close loopholes and force the EPA to do more when it comes to transparency on public health hazards in the future.”  

“The EPA has far too many rules on the books that are years out of date and do not protect public health,” said Lipinski. “I’m proud to work with Senator Duckworth and Congressman Foster to cosponsor the EtO is Toxic Act, which will hold the EPA accountable and force the agency to keep its pollution regulations in sync with the latest science.”

“When the EPA determines a chemical poses a health risk, it needs to take immediate action to protect affected communities,” said Schneider. “Our legislation makes sure the EPA does not sit on its hands when public health is at stake by requiring the EPA to quickly identify facilities using dangerous compounds and assess whether those emissions pose a risk to neighboring communities. The bill would also prevent the EPA from keeping residents in the dark by requiring all information be released to the public. This is commonsense legislation to protect the health of our communities and I am glad to join Sen. Duckworth and Rep. Foster on this effort.”

“Sen. Duckworth and Congressman Foster’s proposal would require EPA to adopt additional measures to better protect the public from pollution,” said Environmental Working Group Legislative Attorney Melanie Benesh. “Incidents of communities grappling with chemical contamination are far too common, and it is not always clear how the EPA is addressing the cleanups. This bill would significantly expand the level of transparency as to how the agency is responding when people are threatened by pollution.”

“This bill would take critical steps to ensure that EPA evaluates the health risks posed by emissions of ethylene oxide and other highly cancer-causing chemicals from industrial facilities,” said Sonya Lunder of Sierra Club. “Sierra Club applauds Senator Duckworth and Congressman Foster for their effort to prioritize public health and see that communities living near industrial facilities along with local and state governments are quickly and fully informed of chemical risks.”

The EtO is Toxic Act would require the EPA to:

  • Notify Congress, state and local public health departments, and local communities when public health risks are uncovered,
  • Publish a list of sites that require additional review when an exposure risk is determined,
  • Bring direction and intention to the chemical review process between EPA and the Agency for Toxic Disease Registry (ATSDR).

In addition, the bill would improve the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) review of chemicals, and ensure IRIS reviews and National Air Toxic Assessments (NATA) are expeditiously published and made accessible to state and local health agencies, other federal agencies and international health organizations. It will also increase funding for these programs. The bill would also require the EPA to consider its own IRIS assessments when conducting a rulemaking and expedite the process of utilizing technology to mitigate the impacts of toxic chemicals.

The EPA has acknowledged ethylene oxide is a known carcinogen since 2016, but has failed to revise its ethylene oxide emission standards, prompting Durbin, Duckworth, Schneider, Lipinski, and Foster to introduce legislation earlier this week that would require the EPA to update its safety standards.

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.