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Hey, governor! Remember Sterigenics?

Wednesday, Feb 6, 2019

* WGN

New data from the EPA released Tuesday reveals higher levels of the cancer-causing agent ethylene oxide near Sterigenics’ facility in suburban Willowbrook than earlier studies, prompting calls for its closure from officials and residents who feel the plant is responsible for a litany of medical problems in the community.

A protest outside Gower West School Tuesday is the latest involving residents of this community against Sterigenics, which has been operating in the area since 1984. These folks say the data is irrefutable: the levels of emissions is to a point that people have been getting sick - and some dying - for years.

Sterigenics produces ethylene oxide, which is odorless and is used to make other chemicals like anti-freeze, adhesives, detergents, pesticides and sterilizers for medical equipment.

* Tribune

William Wehrum, the administration’s top air official, said the EPA is sticking to its plan to re-evaluate cancer risks in the Willowbrook area after collecting more air samples during the next month and combining the results with computer modeling of pollution emitted by Sterigenics.

Samples analyzed so far suggest that on some days the air monitors are registering other, unknown sources of ethylene oxide, Wehrum said, meaning the agency needs more time to assess the dangers, determine the extent Sterigenics is responsible and figure out how to limit future emissions.

“Does this somehow exonerate Sterigenics? The answer is no,” Wehrum said on a conference call dominated by residents urging the EPA to shut down the facility and questioning if the Trump administration is backing away from promises made before the November elections. “We think it’s really important to gather enough information so we can make valid and supportable decisions.” […]

Based on wind patterns during days when the EPA collected air samples in late November and December, there is no doubt Sterigenics is exposing residents to higher-than-normal levels of ethylene oxide, Wehrum and other agency officials said.

The Sterigenics response is here.

Press release…

Attorney General Kwame Raoul and DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin today issued the following statement regarding the Sterigenics facility in Willowbrook.

“We are very deeply troubled by recent media reports showing improper operations at the Sterigenics facility in Willowbrook. We have also since learned just this afternoon from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that 12 more days of EtO sampling results from November and December 2018 show a clear link between EtO emissions from the Sterigenics facilities and elevated EtO levels within the Willowbrook community. The citizens of DuPage County should not have to endure this exposure to a known human carcinogen. We are coordinating our review of the data released this afternoon with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the Willowbrook EtO Task Force, which includes retained environmental professionals, including toxicologists. We will exercise all available legal authority to protect the community from this exposure.”

And…

State Rep. Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) today released the following statement on the latest allegations made against the Sterigenics facility in Willowbrook:

“The latest allegations against Sterigenics are beyond troubling and once again call into question their commitment to the safety of our communities and their employees. I am not convinced, nor are many of the families that I represent, that Sterigenics is willing to make the changes necessary to ensure our health and safety. So I am calling on Sterigenics to immediately shut their doors and leave our community.”

* Meanwhile

Former workers, who do not want to be identified, accused the company of improperly dumping ethylene oxide and ethylene glycol.

One former Sterigenics worker said the chemical would be washed directly into the factory drains.

“The people in the back would call it chamber scum,” said one former worker. “It was really nasty. They would have us scrub it out, hose it down and squeegee it right into the drainage pits.”

Workers say plant supervisors would dump ethylene oxide’s byproduct– ethylene glycol–down the public sewer drains to avoid the cost of shutting down operations. Ethylene glycol is found in anti-freeze.

To avoid plant shutdowns, former workers say, the company manipulated alarm systems meant to warn workers when they were over-exposed to chemicals.

* From the campaign…



Well, governor? Whatcha gonna do?

- Posted by Rich Miller        

34 Comments »
  1. - Perrid - Wednesday, Feb 6, 19 @ 11:42 am:

    Can he tell the IL EPA to shut it down? That simple?


  2. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Feb 6, 19 @ 11:48 am:

    The Pritzker Crew is already late to this in the role of governor.

    The state doesn’t stop and wait on things until any administration is ready to act or make right issues like this.

    This is not his any administration can look to be engaged after an election.

    Words or a statement won’t cut it.

    There needs to be a substantive response with steps that can be followed by people, the victims, the press, that indicate action.


  3. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Feb 6, 19 @ 11:51 am:

    I agree.


  4. - Da Big Bad Wolf - Wednesday, Feb 6, 19 @ 11:56 am:

    The new EPA data shows increase in ethylene oxide. This is after Sterigenics added equipment to reduce ethylene oxide last year. I hope they saved their receipt.


  5. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Feb 6, 19 @ 11:57 am:

    You wanted the gig, now get on it and do your job. Perhaps the COS can take a break from her twitter comedy act and make the trains run.


  6. - SAP - Wednesday, Feb 6, 19 @ 11:58 am:

    I recall Donne Trotter, when commenting on Pat Quinn’s ascension to Governor, that it is much easier to throw rocks than have rocks thrown at you.


  7. - Flapdoodle - Wednesday, Feb 6, 19 @ 11:58 am:

    ==Well, governor? Whatcha gonna do?==

    Adding: “And guv, there’s only one right answer here.”


  8. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Feb 6, 19 @ 12:00 pm:

    This plant needs to close


  9. - DuPage Saint - Wednesday, Feb 6, 19 @ 12:04 pm:

    Why is DuPage and or the state not seeking an emergency injunction to shut it down. That should have been done months ago


  10. - Last Bull Moose - Wednesday, Feb 6, 19 @ 12:06 pm:

    First question is whether they are in violation of their permits. Harder to shut them down if they are in compliance.

    The anonymous worker statements need to be investigated. They described criminal behavior. Is this fact or not?

    Is there a technical solution that makes the plant acceptably safe? Incineration can render many chemicals harmless.

    There seems to be a lack of urgency.


  11. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Feb 6, 19 @ 12:11 pm:

    This was a hot issue during the end of the campaign. The election was more than three months ago.

    During the transition, the Pritzker crew obviously fashioned an agenda of feel-good executive orders to roll out in the early days.

    They’re late to the heavy-lifting. Get going.


  12. - Responsa - Wednesday, Feb 6, 19 @ 12:23 pm:

    Andrea Thome needs to get back out in public on the horn again about this. She was a persuasive voice in bringing Stergenics to the attention of the greater public. A lot of Pritzker’s voters care a great deal about this.


  13. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Feb 6, 19 @ 12:24 pm:

    Dan Profit was going around saying Sterigenics was “all clear” when the EPA said they had to do more testing last November.

    What is he saying now?


  14. - dbk - Wednesday, Feb 6, 19 @ 12:24 pm:

    Happened to catch “Erin Brockovich” for like the 10th time late last night. Plus ca change, etc.

    It’s not obvious to me that the state has a legal means to shut down the plant if they’re in “typical” compliance with the agreement reached with EPA - which, by the way, notes that a full risk assessment is not anticipated until Spring 2019.


  15. - anon2 - Wednesday, Feb 6, 19 @ 12:27 pm:

    It’s good to see a GOP leader siding with public health against big business.


  16. - Streamwood Retiree - Wednesday, Feb 6, 19 @ 12:27 pm:

    @DuPage Saint
    =That should have been done months ago=
    IIRC, Rauner has a financial interest in that plant. It’s not just Chicago Alderman that are dirty politicians.


  17. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Feb 6, 19 @ 12:34 pm:

    Happened to catch “Erin Brockovich” for like the 10th time late last night.

    Yeah…that?…The race is on?

    Pritzker’s first test?


  18. - In the know - Wednesday, Feb 6, 19 @ 12:37 pm:

    Pritzker had some big talk about the environment during the campaign. So far all he has done is verbally support the climate change fight. His EPA and Director have done nothing since the election. No postings for gutted staff. No leadership. No equipment. I’ve heard staff are being told there is no money and if they need equipment to do their job like computers they will have to apply for grants on their own. Pritzker can say he’s for the environment but with an milk toast Director and no action it’s all fluff.


  19. - Going nuclear - Wednesday, Feb 6, 19 @ 1:02 pm:

    Use the “bully pulpit” Governor to pressure Sterigenics to shut down operations while the environmental experts review the new data, talk to the former employees and inspect the plant.


  20. - Notorious RBG - Wednesday, Feb 6, 19 @ 1:13 pm:

    @ In the know - you mean the Raunerites didn’t go on a hiring rampage the last 6 months like at the ICC? Surprising.


  21. - Anon221 - Wednesday, Feb 6, 19 @ 1:14 pm:

    If the federal shutdown is the reason the USEPA data wasn’t released until this week, and there is the real threat of another shutdown that will also potentially affect USEPA, I would strongly suggest that Pritzker get in gear this week and do something while he has Feds to help as backup.


  22. - Learned Hand - Wednesday, Feb 6, 19 @ 1:27 pm:

    ==Dan Profit was going around saying Sterigenics was “all clear” when the EPA said they had to do more testing last November.”

    Well said. How’s that pro-cancer agenda working out? You have to wonder if his money and anyone tied to Sterigenics will suffer a severe taint.


  23. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Feb 6, 19 @ 1:38 pm:

    If there is really evidence of illegal dumping into the local sewer, the locals can shut them down immediately by suspending sewer service and shutting off the water. No water, no bathrooms, no work, says OSHA.


  24. - Anon221 - Wednesday, Feb 6, 19 @ 1:38 pm:

    USEPA page on Sterigenics reports-

    https://www.epa.gov/il/sterigenics-willowbrook-facility-latest-update#20190128


  25. - JS Mill - Wednesday, Feb 6, 19 @ 1:54 pm:

    JB be good for your word and be good fast.


  26. - In the know - Wednesday, Feb 6, 19 @ 2:03 pm:

    @NotoriusRBG - I meant Pritzker hasn’t even posted any positions yet. It’s not like no one knew the IEPA has had no staff or resources for years. I would think an Entrepreneur like Pritzker would have hit the ground running with a management plan for the IEPA and IDNR. Apparently not.


  27. - Keyser Soze - Wednesday, Feb 6, 19 @ 2:05 pm:

    USEPA and IEPA are defacto cops, not judges. There may be exceptions, but, in general, these agencies don’t padlock businesses.

    The best route to immediate closure is through the courts via injunction. That would require hard evidence of actual or likely (not speculative) harm. This is where things become a bit more difficult. The science itself is somewhat sketchy, particularly when expressed in terms of numerical cancer risks.

    Should it go to a courtroom, this matter might easily come down to a drawn out battle of experts. And, we should suspect that the state and federal agencies would prefer to avoid the courtroom. We can stipulate as to chemical data, wind speed, wind direction, etc., but the courtroom is also where the government’s methods might be put on trial. This is the in-house stuff that generally doesn’t see the light of day.

    Measured chemical concentrations are actual facts. The significance of those facts is less than obvious. Are the sporadic EtO levels recorded in Willowbrook a source of actual harm? Maybe, maybe not. No one seems to know.

    The regulatory authorities are apparently not convinced that the EtO levels represent a real threat to the community. Hence, we have a stalemate. Unfortunately, this is poor consolation to the people in Willowbrook.


  28. - Klaus VonBulow - Wednesday, Feb 6, 19 @ 2:10 pm:

    When is he going to start governing and stop campaigning for photo opps? Does his Chief of staff have any government experience? Does he expect the Rauner appointees at EPA to facilitate his agenda? The same question could be for the EO’s that require administration at other agencies.


  29. - Notorious RBG - Wednesday, Feb 6, 19 @ 2:58 pm:

    @In the know - I feel the same frustration… I was hoping the number of deputy governors would help facilitate the process and move things quickly.


  30. - Anon - Wednesday, Feb 6, 19 @ 3:23 pm:

    Did anyone consider an OSHA complaint? The employees are exposed to the same or greater levels and if they are outside of the OSHA eto requirement they should shut them down today.


  31. - Lucky than Good - Wednesday, Feb 6, 19 @ 3:32 pm:

    Check out table 7.1 on page 12 of this:
    https://www.americanchemistry.com/ProductsTechnology/Ethylene-Oxide/EO-Product-Stewardship-Manual-3rd-edition/EO-Product-Stewardship-Manual-Personnel-Exposure.PDF

    It shows that the longer the exposure period, the greater the risk. If you do the math, anyone who worked in that warehouse on December 6 for say… a 12 hour shift was exposed to toxic levels of this chemical. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that people who live nearby and are exposed to levels 1/10th that high for months or years on end, are similarly at risk.


  32. - Commonsense in Illinois - Wednesday, Feb 6, 19 @ 3:55 pm:

    Governor, Rich is right.

    The campaign is over. Issuing statements without action rings hollow regardless on which side one takes on this. Nonetheless, you’ve made a provocative statement and you need to follow through.


  33. - Tiny Tim - Wednesday, Feb 6, 19 @ 3:56 pm:

    As Honeybear noted: a lot of executive orders, not a lot of governing yet.

    Given that the new EPA head was an internal promotion, not much reason this should not be fixed already.


  34. - Dad of too many - Wednesday, Feb 6, 19 @ 6:23 pm:

    Lucky than Good-
    The units in the table are in ppm. The epa’s
    sample results are in ppb. These sample results are 3 orders of magnitude lower. Maybe we should all let the epa finish their study rather than going immediately to outrage.


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