Durbin, Members of Illinois Congressional Delegation Press EPA Administrator Wheeler On Ethylene Oxide Emissions

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and members of the Illinois Congressional Delegation today pressed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler about their concerns about ethylene oxide (EtO) emissions at the Medline and Vantage facilities in Lake County. In a meeting with Administrator Wheeler, Durbin pushed for a timeline of regulatory actions by the U.S. EPA, and called on Administrator Wheeler to protect the U.S. EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) values from industry interests in its rulemaking.  They also discussed a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data study that showed higher levels of cancer-causing EtO found in people living near Medline Industries in Waukegan, Illinois.  Medline uses EtO to sterilize medical products. Durbin also pressed Administrator Wheeler on what the EPA is doing to immediately reduce EtO emissions in Lake County.

“Administrator Wheeler has a responsibility to ensure his agency is doing everything it can to protect the public health of all Illinois families,” Durbin said.  “Without stronger standards, inspections, and emissions monitoring of this deadly chemical, Illinois communities will continue to be at risk.”

Durbin was joined by U.S. Representatives Dan Lipinski (D-IL-03), Bill Foster (D-IL- 11), Brad Schneider (D-IL-10), Sean Casten (D-IL-06), and Lauren Underwood (D-IL-14) at today’s meeting.

“I have serious concerns that the EPA is beginning to undermine its own risk analysis for ethylene oxide,” said Lipinski. “The evidence is overwhelming that ethylene oxide poses significant cancer risks to those exposed to emissions, but now the agency is questioning its own scientific review. EPA must always err on the side of caution and make protecting the health and safety of communities its overriding priority.”

“Our community has waited for too long as U.S. EPA continues to drag its feet on properly regulating ethylene oxide,” said Schneider. “Today, I again conveyed to Administrator Wheeler that the public deserves engagement on ethylene oxide, not silence from the U.S. EPA. Enough with the delay, it is past time for the U.S. EPA to release strong, science-based standards that protect the health of our communities.”

“While I’m glad that Administrator Wheeler finally met with the Illinois delegation about our ongoing concerns about ethylene oxide exposure in our communities, I am deeply disturbed and extremely frustrated that it took this long. At a time when our constituents are rightly concerned about our health and safety, the U.S. EPA has left our communities in the dark and has failed to mount any satisfactory response,” said Casten. “Moving forward, I hope the Administrator will commit to working with us to secure better information on the risks of ethylene oxide and, finally, move forward in finalizing new rules for the use of this dangerous chemical at commercial sterilization facilities.”

In November, Durbin and Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), along with Lipinski, Foster, Schneider, Casten, and Underwood, sent a letter to the EPA urging it to better protect communities from EtO emitted by industrial processes. The members voiced concerns that the EPA’s recently proposed actions on EtO emissions are not protective enough, and once again asked EPA to quickly issue new rules for EtO emissions at commercial sterilization facilities, and publish a timeline of regulatory actions, along with a status of progress and estimated completion.  

The members also urged EPA to immediately conduct inspections of all Region 5 facilities – including Medline and Vantage Specialty Chemicals Inc. in Gurnee, Illinois, which use EtO for manufacturing and commercial sterilization.  The members also asked EPA to identify and measure emissions, and to evaluate the pollution control technology used to control stack emissions. 

Earlier this year, the Senate received information alleging that senior EPA political appointees had instructed EPA civil servants in Region 5 to avoid conducting any inspections of facilities that emit EtO. That prompted Durbin, Duckworth, and Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) to ask the EPA’s Office of Inspector General to immediately launch an independent investigation into whether the Trump EPA is attempting to prevent the public from learning about their exposure levels to EtO, which is a known carcinogen.