November 28, 2018

Durbin, Duckworth, Schneider, Lipinski, Foster Introduce Bill to Require EPA to Revise Standards for Ethylene Oxide Emissions


[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) along with U.S. Representative Brad Schneider (D-IL-10), and Representatives Dan Lipinski (D-IL-03) and Bill Foster (D-IL-11), today introduced a bill 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.

Sterigenics Inc. in DuPage County, Illinois, and 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.  

“It’s long past time for the EPA to update its air emissions standards for ethylene oxide – a known carcinogen. Illinois residents of Lake and DuPage counties deserve action now, which is why I’m joining Representative Schneider, Senator Duckworth, and Representatives Lipinski and Foster on a bill that would hold the agency accountable.  We won’t let the EPA sit on its hands when it comes to protecting the public health of Illinoisans,” Durbin said.

 “Our government is failing to protect Americans from breathing in toxic air and that’s absolutely unacceptable,” Duckworth said. “Even at low levels, ethylene oxide is dangerous to public health. The EPA needs to immediately update its safety standards to safeguard Americans from cancer-causing emissions.”

“The EPA needs to take all appropriate and necessary actions to protect our communities from the threat of ethylene oxide – a known carcinogen. Our bill would give the EPA 180 days to update its ethylene oxide emission standards based on the science because we cannot delay when it comes to the health of our families. The legislation would also require public notification for any emission violations to ensure local communities have the facts about the safety of their air. I appreciate the leadership of Sen. Durbin and the support of my colleagues on this important legislation. This is about our public health, and we need action now,” Schneider said.

“The EPA's failure to update emissions standards for EtO is deeply concerning, especially considering this was supposed to be done four years ago.  Residents of communities adjacent to EtO-emitting facilities deserve to know that the air they breathe is free from cancer-causing hazardous pollutants.  I'm grateful to join my colleagues in the Illinois delegation in addressing this serious issue to ensure this type of inaction doesn't happen in the future,” Lipinski said.

“The EPA’s work is critical for protecting the health and well-being of the American people and Illinoisans. It is important that we take immediate action to close existing loopholes in our chemical safety laws so that communities in Illinois are protected from public health risks posed by toxic chemicals like ethylene oxide. This legislation would require the EPA to utilize the best scientific data to update emissions standards and ensure transparency. We simply cannot accept the status quo and risk endangering public health," Foster said.

Recently, the Chicago Tribune published two stories that detail how all three facilities appear to emit cancer-causing emissions, yet the Trump Administration, along with Governor Bruce Rauner’s Administration, delayed giving this pertinent information to Illinoisans and still have not properly tested air quality in the area.

Earlier this month, Durbin, Duckworth, Foster, and Schneider met with  EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler to discuss cancer risks caused by EtO emissions at the facilities in DuPage and Lake Counties.  The members urged Wheeler to take steps to increase air quality monitoring and update air modeling, and they pressed for answers about whether  EPA followed proper protocols and requirements when it delayed telling Illinois residents about the dangerous emissions from the facilities.  

Durbin, Duckworth, and Foster  have requested the EPA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) to investigate if EPA complied with all statutory, regulatory, and policy requirements and protocols when it intentionally withheld critical health information from the public about carcinogenic air pollution from the facilities in DuPage County and Lake County

In October, Durbin, Duckworth, and Foster sent a letter to the EPA requesting federal assistance to help community groups in DuPage County understand the magnitude of the public health dangers they are facing, medical monitoring for community members who have been exposed to ethylene oxide, as well as immediate actions to assess and reduce ethylene oxide exposure across the country.

In September, Durbin, Duckworth, and Foster requested EPA and Sterigenics begin testing local air quality for harmful ethylene oxide emissions and make their results available to the general public – and that the company provide personal exposure tests to Willowbrook residents.  The EPA notified the Members of Congress on September 27 that it had begun to test air quality from the Sterigenics plant for emissions of ethylene oxide, but still had not conducted ambient air testing for the surrounding area.

Earlier this month, Durbin, Duckworth, and Schneider requested EPA perform updated and current air sampling and modeling studies to determine the cancer risks in Lake County.  The EPA has not conducted air emissions quality tests for these two facilities since the 2016 IRIS report and the 2014 National Air Toxics Assessment (NATA), which found that EtO emissions have a 30-fold increase in cancer potency.

Durbin, Duckworth and Schneider have also pressed the EPA to perform an in-depth investigation into EtO emissions at Medline Industries, Inc. and Vantage Specialty Chemicals, Inc.