Durbin, Duckworth, Lipinski, Foster, Schneider, Casten Meet With Sterigenics, Press For Answers

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), along with U.S. Representatives Dan Lipinski (D-IL-03), Bill Foster (D-IL-11), Brad Schneider (D-IL-10), and Sean Casten (D-IL-06) today 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 ethylene oxide (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.

A photo of today’s meeting is available here. 

“Illinois residents are rightfully distressed and worried about the EtO emissions coming from Sterigenics, and today we had the opportunity to meet directly with the company’s leadership to press for answers,” Durbin said. “The EPA certainly has a role to play when it comes to monitoring air emissions and enforcing regulations, but it’s equally important that Sterigenics recognizes the serious health hazards they’ve been cited for, and takes steps to mitigate risks for the residents in their facility’s backyard.”

“We know that ethylene oxide is a dangerous toxin that poses a serious health risk to Illinoisans in DuPage and Lake Counties, and steps must be made to mitigate this threat,” Duckworth said. “While my colleagues and I have called on the EPA to do its part in investigating and mitigating these threats, Sterigenics must also acknowledge its role in this public health crisis and be willing to work together to prevent more damage from being done.”

“I appreciated the opportunity to meet with Mr. Petras and Mr. MacNabb and requested that they also make themselves available to impacted residents with a public meeting as soon as possible.  I also repeated my call from six weeks ago for Sterigenics to do perimeter monitoring of their Willowbrook facilities to produce a more accurate measure of the total amount of EtO being emitted and back up their claim that they are not the cause for the high EtO readings in the surrounding communities. While I foremost believe that the Sterigenics plant should be closed, short of that happening, they should immediately draw up a perimeter monitoring plan for EPA approval,” Lipinski said.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to meet with representatives from Sotero Health regarding EtO emissions in Willowbrook and the surrounding area,” Foster said. “It’s incumbent on the company to place the health of Illinois residents first as we continue to monitor air emissions to ensure the company complies with regulations based on the best available science. Their cooperation is critical as we continue to receive reports from the EPA and assess the risk these emissions pose to public health and well-being.”   

Casten said, “I am extremely concerned about these carcinogenic emissions and the EPA’s ability to do their job and accurately analyze the air tests from the Sterigenics facility especially given the recent 35-day Trump shutdown. My constituents deserve to know if their neighborhoods are safe. While today’s meeting was informative, it is imperative that the people in our communities have confidence in the safety of the air they breathe. I will continue to work with my colleagues to press the EPA and Sterigenics to take any and every action necessary to protect the health and safety of our residents.”

Last week, the members sent a letter to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (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. The last EPA measurement update is from November 23.  Additionally, the members asked for an update on requests to set up ambient air monitoring at two EtO emitting facilities in Lake County, Illinois—Medline Industries, Inc. and Vantage Specialty Chemicals Inc.

Sterigenics Inc., Medline Industries, Inc., and Vantage Specialty Chemicals, Inc., have been identified to have high carcinogenic EtO emissions.  The EPA failed to promptly notify Illinois residents about potential dangers and has not updated its emissions standards for the chemical based on the best available science put forth in the most recent Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) assessment. 

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. Durbin, Duckworth, and Schneider also requested EPA perform updated and current air sampling and modeling studies to determine the cancer risks in Lake County. 

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