February 12, 2019

Durbin, Duckworth, Schneider, Foster, Lipinski, Casten Introduce Bills to Hold EPA Accountable For Poor Oversight of Ethylene Oxide Emissions


[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), along with U.S. Representatives Brad Schneider (D-IL-10), Bill Foster (D-IL-11), Dan Lipinski (D-IL-03), and Sean Casten (D-IL-06), today introduced a pair of bicameral bills that would hold  the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) accountable for its poor oversight of ethylene oxide (EtO) emissions, which have been the source of harmful emissions in Illinois. Durbin and Schneider led the introduction of a bill that would revise EtO emissions standards for medical sterilization and chemical facilities and require the EPA to notify the public no more than 30 days after it learns that the new standards have been violated. Duckworth and Foster led the introduction of the Expanding Transparency of Information and Safeguarding Toxics (EtO is Toxic) Act of 2019, which 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.

Last week, the EPA confirmed – after months of pressure from the members – that the level of EtO measured outside the Sterigenics facility in Willowbrook was 350 times higher than what EPA finds to be an acceptable risk, and 50 times higher than what was found in the surrounding areas. Additionally, a CBS Chicago report revealed last week, through interviews with ex-employees of Sterigenics, alleged rampant wrong-doing by facility supervisors, such as releasing EtO directly into the atmosphere without proper pollution control equipment, dumping ethylene glycol into drainage facilities, and manipulating warning alarms in the facility. Last week, the members sent a letter to Sterigenics pressing for answers.

In addition to Sterigenics, Medline Industries, Inc., and Vantage Specialty Chemicals, Inc., in Lake County, Illinois, have been cited for high carcinogenic EtO emissions.  The EPA failed to promptly notify Illinois residents about potential dangers and has not updated its emissions standards for the chemical based on the best available science put forth in the most recent Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) assessment.  

“Leadership at the EPA isn’t taking the public health threat of EtO seriously enough. These bills send a clear message to the EPA that it’s time to stop sitting on its hands and start taking proactive steps that protect the public health of Illinoisans from this carcinogen. There’s no excuse to delay,” Durbin said.

“The Trump Administration is failing to protect Americans from breathing in toxic air and that’s absolutely unacceptable,” Duckworth said. “The EPA must do more to protect Illinoisans from cancer-causing emissions like ethylene oxide. That’s why I’m proud to join Senator Durbin and my colleagues in introducing these two bills to make sure the EPA immediately updates its safety standards and is transparent with the public about the health risks they face as soon as they are discovered.”

“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, 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.

“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. In light of recent EPA data that suggests emissions from Sterigenics appear to be ongoing, this legislation would ensure that the EPA utilizes the best available scientific data to evaluate chemicals in a transparent and methodical manner and that they 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.”  

“Ethylene oxide is a dangerous pollutant and it is unacceptable that our regulations allow facilities to release unsafe amounts of it into surrounding communities,” said Lipinski. “I am pleased to co-lead this legislation that will require a timely update of ethylene oxide regulations and will make sure that in the future, our regulations are kept up-to-date with the latest science.”

“We must hold the EPA accountable to do its job and assure our community is safe. I am extremely concerned that the EPA has been slow to act given new information that EtO is more harmful than previously understood, communities are left with this uncertainty. These bills send a direct message to the EPA to step up and proactively update the public on the Sterigenics plant and the public threat EtO poses,” said Casten.

“The people of Illinois – and all around the country – must be protected from this dangerous toxin. Given EPA’s foot-dragging on this issue, members of Congress should join this effort to force the agency to do its job and protect our health and that of our children,” said Dan West, Legislative Advocate at the National Resources Defense Council.

The Durbin-Schneider EtO bill would require the EPA to:

  • Revise its Clean Air Act ethylene oxide emissions standards for commercial sterilization and miscellaneous organic manufacturing no more than 180 days after enactment;
  • Base this revision off of the best available science put forth by the EPA, including its most recent IRIS assessment;
  • Notify the public of a violation involving ethylene oxide no later than 30 days after the Administrator learns of a violation of the new revised standards and;
  • Require an investigation by the Inspector General of the EPA if the Administrator fails to notify the public of a violation within 30 days;

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.