January 29, 2019

Trump EPA Proposes Limiting Its Ability to Protect Public from Cancer-Causing Ethylene Oxide Emissions

Senators & Congressmembers express alarm over proposal to undermine EPA’s ethylene oxide risk assessment using unrelated rule


[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), along with U.S. Representatives Dan Lipinski (D-IL-03), Sean Casten (D-IL-06), Brad Schneider (D-IL-10) and Bill Foster (D-IL-11), called attention today to an apparent attempt by Trump political appointees at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to limit the agency’s ability to protect the public from cancer-causing ethylene oxide (EtO) emissions. The Members of Congress expressed alarm that the EPA apparently invited chemical industry lobbyists to question the science behind the agency’s 2016 conclusion that EtO is 50 to 60 times more carcinogenic than previously estimated. They also questioned whether Trump appointees tried to hide their efforts by inserting the invitation, with little public notice or congressional notification, into the middle of a 103 page draft rule involving a tangentially related chemical the EPA sent to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) just days before Christmas.

“We are alarmed by this troubling information request that appears to be a transparent invitation for the public—including chemical industries—to weaken EPA’s forthcoming rules intended to protect Illinoisans and Americans from elevated levels of cancer risk resulting from exposure to ethylene oxide,” the Members of Congress wrote to EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “This would represent an indefensible capitulation by EPA to the demands of the chemical industry, which appears to be following the playbook established by the fossil fuel industry when it sought to undermine climate change science and by tobacco companies when they attempted to cover up the danger of their products.”

EPA’s request for comment on EtO, in a draft rule on a separate chemical, is highly unusual.

“We strongly urge you to publicly commit to at least preserving, if not strengthening, EPA current risk value of EtO,” they continued. “Our constituents in and around Willowbrook and Lake County, Illinois, have lived in fear that the air they breathe now, and breathed for decades, represents an elevated cancer risk. They deserve to have confidence that EPA is working for the public good and not private profits.”

Last week, Duckworth, Durbin and Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) asked the EPA Inspector General to launch an independent investigation into whether the Trump EPA is failing to protect the American public from cancer-causing Ethylene Oxide (EtO) emissions after receiving information alleging that EPA senior political appointees instructed career civil servants to avoid conducting inspections of facilities that emit EtO in Region 5. During his Senate confirmation hearing last week, Duckworth asked Wheeler to answer for why no EPA staff are currently inspecting any facilities that emit ethylene oxide in Region 5 or across the country.

Duckworth, Durbin, Casten, Foster, Lipinski and Schneider have each been strong advocates for residents in Illinois communities with EtO-emitting facilities like Sterigenics and Medline and they have repeatedly called for the EPA to update its safety standards that regulate emissions of the carcinogen. The Members of Congress have had multiple meetings with top EPA officials over this public health crisis and EPA has held community meetings and begun monitoring air quality near Sterigenics at their request. Durbin, Duckworth and Foster have previously requested an investigation into whether EPA intentionally withheld critical health information from the public about the cancer risks posed by Sterigenics.


The full text of the letter is available online here.