Durbin: EPA Must Treat Sterigenics Emissions As The Public Health Crisis It Is

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today slammed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for its lack of action and oversight of Willowbrook, Illinois-based Sterigenics, Inc., a medical sterilization company that uses a carcinogenic chemical – ethylene oxide (EtO) – to sterilize medical equipment. In a speech on the Senate floor, Durbin urged the EPA to use its existing authority to develop new rules around the use of EtO, including when it is used for commercial sterilization at plants like Sterigenics.

Last week, the EPA confirmed – after months of pressure from Durbin and Senator 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) – that the level of EtO measured outside the Sterigenics facility in Willowbrook was 350 times higher than what EPA finds to be an acceptable risk, and 50 times higher than what was found in the surrounding areas. Additionally, a CBS Chicago report revealed last week through interviews with ex-employees of Sterigenics alleged rampant wrong-doing by facility supervisors, such as releasing EtO directly into the atmosphere without proper pollution control equipment, dumping ethylene glycol into drainage facilities, and manipulating warning alarms in the facility.

“Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA is four years overdue for promulgating new rules for ethylene oxide commercial sterilization. And yet, when I called Acting Administrator Wheeler last Friday, there doesn’t seem to be any sense of urgency to take action on this issue beyond the further collection of data,” Durbin said. “The health and safety of these families and their children is at stake…It is too long to ask someone to wait when they sleep near this plant, work near this plant, or take their kids to school near this plant….there is no excuse, no explanation for delaying the establishment of this kind of rule.”

Video of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate Floor are available here.

Audio of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate Floor is available here.

On Friday, Durbin had a call with Acting U.S. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler to press him to act to protect the health of Illinoisans when it comes to ethylene oxide emissions at Sterigenics.  Last week, Durbin, Duckworth, along with U.S. Representatives Bill Foster (D-IL-11), Dan Lipinski (D-IL-03), Brad Schneider (D-IL-10), and Sean Casten (D-IL-06) pressed Willowbrook, Sterigenics for answers about the CBS Chicago report.

In January, 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.

Also 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.