Congressional Dems demand Lake County EtO tests

Sens. Duckworth, Durbin, five reps. call for federal action as the EPA stands idly by

U.S. Reps. Sean Casten (left) and Lauren Underwood have joined colleagues in Congress in calling for federal testing of EtO levels in Lake County. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

U.S. Reps. Sean Casten (left) and Lauren Underwood have joined colleagues in Congress in calling for federal testing of EtO levels in Lake County. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

By Ted Cox

The state’s two U.S. senators and five U.S. representatives called for federal testing in Lake County in areas suspected of high concentrations of ethylene oxide Friday as they accused the Environmental Protection Agency of idly standing by in the face of a potential health emergency.

U.S. Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin and U.S. Reps. Lauren Underwood, Sean Casten, Bill Foster, Brad Schneider, and Dan Lipinski called on a federal agency to test for carcinogenic EtO in Lake County, while charging that the EPA “continues to refuse to invest resources in these communities.”

The Illinois members of Congress sent a joint letter Friday to Patrick Breysse, director of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the agency that published a report last August on a suspected cancer cluster located near the Sterigenics facilities in Willowbrook that used EtO in sterilization. The public fallout from that report, and additional testing by the EPA, led Sterigenics to be shut down by the state in February.

Lake County residents, and Durbin and Duckworth, have been up in arms since media reports suggested a similar danger in Lake County near Medline Industries in Waukegan and Vantage Specialty Chemicals in Gurnee, both of which use EtO in sterilization. A local group called Stop EtO has borrowed the tactics of the Stop Sterigenics grassroots group in calling for a similar study and testing to be done in Lake County.

“Since exposure to ethylene oxide became a concern in Illinois, ATSDR has been a critical leader in helping to determine the scope of the problem,” the congressional Democrats wrote in their letter. “We believe the public-health challenge posed by ethylene oxide requires a whole-of-government approach. We are asking ATSDR to provide vital federal assistance to Lake County in making sure air monitoring takes place and interpreting data derived from the ambient air levels of ethylene oxide.”

According to an accompanying news release put out by Duckworth’s office, the EPA has “denied multiple requests to conduct the monitoring.”

Former Attorney General Lisa Madigan charged the EPA and the Illinois EPA under former Gov. Rauner of a cover-up in informing Sterigenics of the cancer risk months before the ATSDR released its report to the public. Stop EtO has suggested that the state and federal EPA have been leery of creating an additional health problem by shutting down more sterilization companies, who do much of their work on medical supplies — a concern that has been raised by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Members of the Illinois congressional delegation have previously called for the FDA to seek out alternatives to EtO in sterilizing medical supplies, stating: “It is imperative that our nation’s medical devices are safe and sterile, but it is equally imperative that the methods used to sterilize those devices are not poisoning our air and causing cancer in our communities.”

Underwood, Casten, Foster, Schneider, and Lipinski all have congressional districts either including those suspect sites in Lake and DuPage County or near enough to pose a health scare.