Hold EPA accountable for EtO, say congressional Dems
Durbin, Duckworth, Schneider, Foster lead bicameral effort to tell Trump EPA to ‘stop sitting on its hands’
By Ted Cox
Illinois Democrats in both houses of Congress led a charge this week to hold the Environmental Protection Agency accountable for cancer-causing ethylene oxide emissions like those found at the Sterigenics facilities outside Chicago.
Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin and Reps. Brad Schneider, Bill Foster, Sean Casten, and Dan Lipinski submitted legislation in both houses ordering the EPA to, in Durbin’s words, “stop sitting on its hands and start taking proactive steps that protect the public health of Illinoisans.”
Durbin and Schneider were lead sponsors of a bill “that would revise EtO emissions standards for medical sterilization and chemical facilities and require the EPA to notify the public no more than 30 days after it learns that the new standards have been violated,” according to a news release from the senators.
The Illinois congressional delegation has repeatedly pointed out that the EPA under President Trump has never revised legal limits on EtO since it was formally declared a carcinogen in the final months of the Obama administration just over two years ago. To that end, a U.S. government report released last August found a higher incidence of cancer in the towns surrounding the Sterigenics facilities in Willowbrook — months after Sterigenics was informed in what then-Attorney General Lisa Madigan charged was a cover-up — but Sterigenics has maintained throughout the ensuing controversy that is operating under its licensed limits. In fact, it continues to operate, to the anguish of area residents and public officials.
“Leadership at the EPA isn’t taking the public health threat of EtO seriously enough,” Durbin said in a statement. “These bills send a clear message to the EPA that it’s time to stop sitting on its hands and start taking proactive steps that protect the public health of Illinoisans from this carcinogen. There’s no excuse to delay.”
Calling EtO “a known carcinogen,” Schneider added, “The EPA needs to urgently take all necessary and appropriate steps to protect our communities from the risks of exposure to ethylene oxide.
“Our legislation would require the EPA to immediately update its ethylene oxide emission standards based on the science,” he added, “as well as act transparently so affected communities have the most up-to-date information on any risks. This is about our public health, and delay is unacceptable.”
Duckworth and Foster, meanwhile, submitted bills for what they call the Expanding Transparency of Information and Safeguarding Toxics Act of 2019, which according to the release “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.”
“The Trump administration is failing to protect Americans from breathing in toxic air, and that’s absolutely unacceptable,” Duckworth said. “The EPA must do more to protect Illinoisans from cancer-causing emissions like ethylene oxide.”
“We need to ensure that when the EPA determines a chemical to be carcinogenic — such as ethylene oxide — that this information is communicated effectively and efficiently to protect human health,” Foster added. “The people of Illinois and our nation deserve a government that will use the most effective tools and procedures to protect their health.”
“The people of Illinois and our nation deserve a government that will use the most effective tools and procedures to protect their health.”
U.S. Rep. Bill Foster (One Illinois/Ted Cox)
Casten said, “We must hold the EPA accountable to do its job and assure our community is safe. I am extremely concerned that the EPA has been slow to act, given new information that EtO is more harmful than previously understood, (and) communities are left with this uncertainty. These bills send a direct message to the EPA to step up and proactively update the public on the Sterigenics plant and the public threat EtO poses.”
Lipinski weighed in calling EtO “a dangerous pollutant, and it is unacceptable that our regulations allow facilities to release unsafe amounts of it into surrounding communities.”
Dan West, of the National Resources Defense Council, accused the EPA of “foot-dragging,” adding, “Members of Congress should join this effort to force the agency to do its job and protect our health and that of our children.”
Charging that the most recent air sample taken near the Sterigenics facilities in Willowbrook was “350 times higher than what EPA finds to be an acceptable risk,” Durbin and Schneider said their bill would require the EPA to revise its permissible EtO emission levels within 180 days of it being signed into law, and would also require the EPA to notify the public of any detected violations within 30 days.
Duckworth and Foster said their EtO Is Toxic Act would also require the EPA to notify Congress of any violations and publish a list of “sites that require additional review when an exposure risk is determined.” It would also call for more cooperation between the EPA and the Agency for Toxic Disease Registry, which released last summer’s report on a cancer cluster in the Willowbrook area.
The members of Congress also pointed out that Medline Industries in Waukegan and Vantage Specialty Chemicals in Gurnee in Lake County are also charged with causing cancer clusters from EtO emissions.
The Stop Sterigenics community group, which has led the public outrage against the firm, has scheduled a “Citizen Lobby Day,” set for Tuesday, with a trip to Springfield to call on state agencies to take action as well.