The poisoning of Willowbrook
Wednesday, Sep 19, 2018 - Posted by Rich Miller
* Background is here. Ted McClelland at Chicago Magazine…
If you call up the 2014 National Air Toxins Assessment map, which estimates the risk of cancer for residents of every census tract in the United States, and type in “Chicago, IL,” you’ll see a dark patch of blue over the southwest suburb of Willowbrook:
That’s the location of Sterigenics International, a company that uses ethylene oxide to sterilize medical products like surgical trays and gowns. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, exposure to the gas can “result in respiratory irritation and lung injury, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, shortness of breath, and cyanosis. Chronic exposure has been associated with the occurrence of cancer, reproductive effects, mutagenic changes, neurotoxicity, and sensitization.”
Indeed, according to the NATA map, residents of Willowbrook had a cancer risk of 300 in a million, specifically as a result of exposure to ethylene oxide emitted by Sterigenics. That’s the highest score anywhere in the Chicago area, and ten times higher than the vast majority of census tracts, which ran a risk of 30 in a million.
In fact, I searched the entire map of the United States, and the only place I found that exceeded Willowbrook’s cancer risk was St. John the Baptist, Louisiana, in the state’s notorious “cancer alley” of oil refineries and petrochemical processors.
* The governor’s original response seems somewhat inadequate…
Sterigenics is owned by a private equity firm co-founded by Gov. Bruce Rauner. Rauner left the firm in 2012 before running for governor.
On Tuesday, Rauner urged people to remain calm.
“I believe that company took the actions themselves, put in control equipment to reduce the emissions…So, this is, and the federal government, I wish they said it earlier, but they said it, I guess, in the last day or two, they put out a letter. This is not an emergency, this is not a public health immediate crisis, this is something we’re managing,” he said.
But the mayor of Willowbrook, who can see the company outside his office window, calls the situation urgent.
“It’s an emergency to me because all my citizens are concerned as well as all the employees here and I’m sure all the people who work in this area are and I am,” Frank Trilla said.
* Burr Ridge residents raise concerns about Sterigenics chemical releases: “As of three weeks ago, I am basically terrified for my daughters’ health,” S. K. Pedersen, a Burr Ridge woman, said at a Village Board meeting. “I have had cancer. My husband’s had cancer. Just about everyone on our street, Elm, has had cancer.”
* Residents outraged by EPA pollution report call for Willowbrook Sterigenics plant to close: Hearing that the company could not be immediately shut down because it was operating within the rules of its permits issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency did not satisfy them. “You need to be in that facility monitoring what is going on,” said Elizabeth DiCriscio, who lives in Wauconda, but works in Willowbrook. “Kids are getting sick. I have headaches everyday of my life. I have asthma. I have eye pain.”