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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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?