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Congressman Brad Schneider

Representing the 10th District of Illinois

Durbin, Duckworth, Schneider Call on EPA to Use Its Authority & Prevent Use of Ethylene Oxide at Sterigenics

March 29, 2019
Press Release
Members also call on EPA to immediately begin ambient air monitoring at the Medline and Vantage facilities in Lake County

In response to an Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) report that detailed evidence that residents of Willowbrook, Illinois, have higher incidences of certain cancers associated with exposure to ethylene oxide (EtO) in comparison to the rest of the state, U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), and U.S. Representatives Bill Foster (D-IL-11), Dan Lipinski (D-IL-03), Brad Schneider (D-IL-10), and Sean Casten (D-IL-06) today urged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to use its authority to prevent the use of EtO – a known carcinogen – at Sterigenics until EPA can assure the Willowbrook community that EtO emissions from the facility no longer endanger the public health. These elevated cancer incidences include Hodgkin’s lymphoma and breast cancer in women, and pediatric lymphoma—cancers that the EPA has identified as being directly linked to EtO inhalation.

 

“Members of the Willowbrook, Waukegan, and Gurnee communities deserve to live and raise families in a community where they do not have to worry that the air they breathe will cause them cancer,” the members wrote in a letter to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “It is the responsibility of the EPA to provide the necessary oversight and regulations to protect human health, and today’s IDPH report shows that EPA is not doing enough.”

 

In today’s letter, the members also pressed EPA to immediately begin ambient air monitoring at Medline Inc. in Waukegan and Vantage Specialty Chemicals Inc. in Gurnee. Previously, EPA had identified these facilities in Lake County with EtO emissions that may be increasing cancer risks in the surrounding communities. To date, EPA has refused to conduct ambient air monitoring at these facilities in Lake County.

 

The members have repeatedly written letters to the EPA, EPA’s Office of the Inspector General, and Sterigenics asking for answers about high levels of EtO emissions, plans for air monitoring, and whether the EPA intentionally withheld critical health information from the public about carcinogenic air pollution from the facilities in DuPage County and Lake County.

 

In February, the members introduced a pair of bicameral bills that would hold the EPA accountable for its poor oversight of EtO emissions. Durbin and Schneider led the introduction of a bill that would force EPA to revise EtO emissions standards for commercial sterilization and manufacturing 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.

 

Full text of the letter is available below:

 

March 29, 2019

 

Dear Administrator Wheeler:

 

Today, an alarming report was released by the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) regarding incidences of cancer in Willowbrook, Illinois.  The report confirms what many have feared: residents of the Willowbrook community—located near a Sterigenics facility that uses ethylene oxide (EtO), a known carcinogen—have higher incidences of certain cancers in comparison to the rest of the state.  In response, we urge the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to use its authority to prevent the use of EtO at Sterigenics until EPA can assure the Willowbrook community that EtO emissions from the facility no longer endanger public health.   

 

In September, Senator Durbin sent a letter to the Director of IDPH, requesting an investigation into possible elevated cancer diagnoses in the Willowbrook community—a recommendation made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).  Today, IDPH released that report, which includes disturbing information about elevated cancer incidences in the population surrounding the Sterigenics facility, compared to the rest of the State of Illinois.  These elevated cancer incidences include Hodgkin’s lymphoma and breast cancer in women, and pediatric lymphoma—cancers that the EPA has identified as being directly linked to EtO inhalation. 

 

In December 2016, EPA completed its years-long review Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) assessment of EtO.  This assessment declared EtO to have an inhalation cancer risk that is 30 times higher than previously estimated.  This new cancer risk estimate was then used in the EPA’s most recent National Air Toxics Assessment (NATA), which models emissions to identify communities that may be subject to higher rates of cancer due to hazardous pollutants.  From this assessment, as well as an ATSDR report specific to Sterigenics, Willowbrook was identified as an area of concern for higher cancer risks due to EtO emissions. Today’s IDPH report confirms that the concerns raised by the ATSDR’s report were justified. 

 

The EPA also has identified two facilities in Lake County, Illinois—Medline Inc. in Waukegan and Vantage Specialty Chemicals Inc. in Gurnee—with EtO emissions that may be increasing cancer risks in the surrounding communities.  We have requested on numerous occasions—in letters and conversations with the Administrator—that EPA begin ambient air monitoring at these facilities.  Such monitoring would help discern whether or not the communities bordering the Medline and Vantage facilities are being exposed to high EtO emissions.  To date, EPA has refused to conduct ambient air monitoring at these facilities in Lake County, and, instead, indicated that it will conduct dispersion modeling.  EPA’s suggested analysis not only side-steps our request, it also does not adequately address the residents’ concerns about increased cancer risks and incidents due to EtO.  While dispersion modeling can identify areas that may have higher EtO exposure, this analysis does not account for the impact of fugitive emissions, which are not released from the stack and have proven to be a significant source of EtO emissions in Willowbrook. 

 

Members of the Willowbrook, Waukegan, and Gurnee communities deserve to live and raise families in a community where they do not have to worry that the air they breathe will cause them cancer. That is why we urge you to immediately use the full authority of the EPA to prevent the use of EtO at the Willowbrook Sterigenics site until the facility can meet EtO emissions limits set to protect public health.  Further, we again request that EPA immediately begin ambient air monitoring at the two facilities in Lake County.  It is the responsibility of the EPA to provide the necessary oversight and regulations to protect human health, and today’s IDPH report shows that EPA is not doing enough. 

 

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter, and we look forward to your prompt response.

 

Sincerely