November 30, 2018

Duckworth Hosts Community Roundtable on Ethylene Oxide Exposure


[DARIEN, IL] — U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) hosted a roundtable discussion in DuPage County today where she heard from Willowbrook-area residents affected by exposure to known-carcinogen ethylene oxide. Community members discussed their concerns about exposure to ethylene oxide emissions from Sterigenics, the Willowbrook-based medical sterilization facility, with Duckworth, who introduced two new pieces of legislation this week in response to the public health crisis. Photos from today’s event are available here.

“Not only did the EPA and the Rauner administration fail to protect many Illinoisans from breathing toxic air, but they were also far too slow to inform the public about the health risks of these emissions,” Duckworth said. “I know we can’t take back the damage already done in the Willowbrook area, but I will do all I can to help improve the situation at hand.”

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 yesterday, 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 earlier this week that would require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to revise ethylene oxide (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 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.

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.