Local Elected Officials Call on EPA to Shut Down Willowbrook Sterigenics

Congressman Dan Lipinski and Illinois House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, along with other elected officials, are calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to "immediately shut down Sterigenics in Willowbrook." 

Joining Willowbrook Mayor Frank Trilla and other elected leaders, the group plans to host a press conference outside the EPA Region 5 building in downtown Chicago. 

The call comes one day after the Illinois EPA and U.S. EPA met with Sterigenics following reports of elevated levels of ethylene oxide concentrations surrounding one of the company's suburban Chicago facilities. 

In a joint statement Thursday Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Attorney General Kwame Raoul urged the EPA to "protect the health and safety of families living near the [Willowbrook] facility." 

"Recent media reports of alleged improper handling of dangerous chemicals at the Sterigenics facility in Willowbrook and reports of elevated EtO levels within the Willowbrook community are deeply disturbing, and we urge the United States EPA to take swift and effective action to protect the health and safety of families living near the facility," the statement read.

Pritzker and Raoul said "after this meeting, we will evaluate any outcomes and exercise all available legal authority to protect the community from this exposure."

New air-quality metrics released by the U.S. EPA this week revealed that the two sites closest to the suburban Chicago Sterigenics facilities have the highest ethylene oxide concentrations.

The EPA posted the results of 12 days of air-quality testing from late November into mid-December. One of the two locations with the highest concentrations include the Willowbrook Village Hall.

Average readings were a little over 2 micrograms per cubic meter, with readings as high as 10 or 11. Environmental health experts said the data confirms prior modeling data that went into the calculations, indicating the cancer risk at more than six extra cancers per 1,000.

The EPA considers one extra cancer per million as acceptable.

The EPA said that downwind of the Sterigenics facility, the concentrations in the community have been as high as 1.7 micrograms per cubic meter.

That's much too high for residents who have been fighting to shut down the facility since they found out about the carcinogen in the air this past summer.

"They need to do what's right and protect this community and these children," said Sri Rao of Stop Sterigenics. "Levels at these schools are hundreds of times higher than the acceptable actual levels. This has to stop. Our children are being poisoned. We are being poisoned."

"We don't need any more tests," said Neringa Zymancius of Stop Sterigenics. "We are not lab rats for them to conduct testing to see how far they can keep releasing emissions until we all start dying."

In a statement earlier this week, Raoul and DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin said they are "very deeply troubled by recent media reports showing improper operations at the Sterigenics facility in Willowbrook."

"We have also since learned just this afternoon from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that 12 more days of EtO sampling results from November and December 2018 show a clear link between EtO emissions from the Sterigenics facilities and elevated EtO levels within the Willowbrook community," they said. "The citizens of DuPage County should not have to endure this exposure to a known human carcinogen. We are coordinating our review of the data released this afternoon with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the Willowbrook EtO Task Force, which includes retained environmental professionals, including toxicologists. We will exercise all available legal authority to protect the community from this exposure."

The U.S. EPA said the data is still too limited to determine the long-term health risks of the levels and expects to issue a full risk assessment in the spring.

Residents have also demanded an immediate shut-down of the facilities.

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