Residents say the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has known about the cancer risk from the Willowbrook Sterigenics plant for decades. And they say it is time for them to act.
"They’re operating 24/7," neighbor Sri Rao said. "You wake up in the middle of the night and you know they’re pumping this gas out into our community."
Sterigenics, operating since 1984, uses the chemical ethylene oxide for medical sterilization. In August residents were notified that the carcinogenic emissions from the plant posed a potentially elevated cancer risk to at least 19,000 residents living nearby.
“In general, we want to reduce those as low as possible because every additional exposure adds to our cancer risk," Dr. Peter Orris, chief of occupational and environmental medicine at the University of Illinois Chicago said.
On Tuesday residents obtained this letter from the IEPA dated July 6, 1984. It detailed concerns the agency had, more than 30 years ago about the plants proposed emissions.
“We’re now facing levels of over 2400 times what IEPA has considered the maximum safe limit," Rao said.
The IEPA responded the decades-old document.
“Our records from nearly 35 years ago indicate that before national emission standards for hazardous air pollutants (NESAP) was adopted for ethylene oxide, the agency identified the issue, raised it with the source and ultimately required installation of controls," it said.
Residents are demanding governing agencies take action now.
“They’ve known that this is a problem for 34 years," Rao said. "We have data taken recently around this area that confirms the emissions are in the problem area."
The U.S. EPA says it needs a minimum of three months of air quality testing to complete it’s risk assessment. The DuPage County state’s attorney’s office says they are still in the process of gathering evidence.