Durbin, Duckworth, Foster, Lipinski, Schneider, Casten Press Sterigenics For Answers About Claims From Ex-Employees
CHICAGO – U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), and U.S. Representatives Bill Foster (D-IL-11), Dan Lipinski (D-IL-03), Brad Schneider (D-IL-10), and Sean Casten (D-IL-06) today pressed Willowbrook, Illinois-based Sterigenics, Inc. for answers about a CBS Chicago report where ex-employees of Sterigenics alleged rampant wrong-doing by facility supervisors, such as releasing ethylene oxide (EtO) directly into the atmosphere without proper pollution control equipment, dumping ethylene glycol into drainage facilities, and manipulating warning alarms in the facility. In a letter to Sterigenics, the members asked a series of questions about whether there would ever be a situation in which of any of these alleged actions would ever be permitted.
“It is unacceptable that the community of Willowbrook and employees of Sterigenics live in constant fear of developing cancer, while a medical sterilization facility—a company that proudly presents the trademark of “Safeguarding Global Health” ™—is responsible for this local health crisis,” the members wrote.
This month, the members met with Michael Petras, CEO of Sotera Health, parent company of Willowbrook, Illinois-based Sterigneics, Inc, and Sterigenics President Phil MacNabb, to discuss high carcinogenic EtO emissions at the facility. The members pressed the company representatives on what they plan to do to ensure the safety and health of Illinois residents who are at-risk from high levels of EtO emitted from its plant, what long-term plans are in place for air emissions monitoring, and whether the company is considering alternatives to EtO for medical equipment sterilization.
In January, the members sent a letter to U.S. EPA asking how President Trump’s shutdown affected EPA’s monitoring operations at Sterigenics Inc. in Willowbrook, Illinois. The members also expressed concern about how the shutdown impacted the sharing of information to the neighborhoods near the facility so residents who are concerned about their health are promptly informed about any dangers.
In November, Durbin, Duckworth, Foster, and Schneider met with EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler to discuss cancer risks caused by EtO emissions at the facilities in DuPage and Lake Counties. The members urged Wheeler to take steps to increase air quality monitoring and update air modeling, and they pressed for answers about whether EPA followed proper protocols and requirements when it delayed telling Illinois residents about the dangerous emissions from the facilities.
The members have repeatedly written letters to the EPA, EPA Office of the Inspector General (OIG), and Sterigenics asking for answers about high levels of EtO emissions, plans for air monitoring, and whether the EPA intentionally withheld critical health information from the public about carcinogenic air pollution from the facilities in DuPage County and Lake County.
Full text of the letter is available here and below:
February 8, 2019
Dear Mr. Michael Petras and Mr. Phil MacNabb:
According to an article released by CBS Chicago on February 3, 2019, Sterigenics directed employees to take extraordinary measures to conduct and cover-up releases of ethylene oxide (EtO) directly into the atmosphere and to dump harmful ethylene glycol into drains that lead to the public sewer system. These disturbing allegations come less than a week after several members the Illinois Congressional Delegation met with Sterigenics and Sotera Health leadership, where assurances were provided that the facility follows established protocols to ensure employee and residential safety.
CBS Chicago spoke with ex-employees of Sterigenices who describe situations where carcinogenic EtO was released directly into the air without being run through pollution control equipment, Sterigenics neglected to enforce proper employee safety precautions, and employees were directed to dump hazardous ethylene glycol into drainage facilities instead of its proper collection process. Additionally, the article describes allegations of the company manipulating alarm systems that are used to alert employees when EtO concentrations were above the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standard of one part per million—an allegation that directly contradicts statements made by Sterigenics leadership to several members of the Illinois Congressional Delegation about personal employee safety within the facility.
These allegations—among others—are particularly concerning. We request answers to the following questions:
- Do you believe there is ever a situation in which it would be appropriate to release to release biologically significant amounts of EtO directly into the atmosphere without going through the proper pollution control equipment? If yes, please explain. Please provide us with copies of all documents that you rely on to support this position.
- Do you believe there is ever a situation in which it would be appropriate to dump ethylene glycol into drainage facilities instead of its proper collection process? If yes, please explain. Please provide us with copies of all documents you rely on to support this position.
- Do you maintain a record of monitor alarm occurrences from EtO at the facility, and does an EtO alarm alert have to be reported to federal or state authorities? How many times have these monitors been triggered since 1993? If so please, provide us with copies of these records from 1993 to present day.
- Does an EtO alarm alert have to be reported to federal or state authorities? If so, please provide us with copies of all documents submitted in connection with those reports from 1993 to present day.
- How many times have these monitors been triggered since 1993? Please provide us with a complete list of the exact dates on which the monitors were triggered
- What is the protocol for employees and facility management when an EtO alarm sounds, whether it be from a personal exposure alarm or a facility-wide alarm? Please provide us with copies of all documents memorializing or interpreting this protocol.
- Please provide us with a detailed description of past incidents at the Sterigenics Willowbrook facility where Sterigenics bypassed pollution control equipment and released EtO directly into the atmosphere;
- Please provide us with a detailed explanation on why the alleged actions referenced above in (5) are false or why such actions occurred but were appropriate; and
- Please provide us with all documents relating to incidents involving the direct release of EtO into the atmosphere at the Sterigenics Willowbrook facility.
It is unacceptable that the community of Willowbrook and employees of Sterigenics live in constant fear of developing cancer, while a medical sterilization facility—a company that proudly presents the trademark of “Safeguarding Global Health” ™—is responsible for this local health crisis.
We request a response to this serious matter as soon as possible.
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