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‘Cancer factory’ poisoning communities in Suburban Chicago, and nothing is being done to stop them

WILLOWBROOK, Ill. – Members of communities just outside of Chicago recently learned they may have been poisoned for decades due to emissions of a known carcinogen, ethylene oxide, from a nearby medical sterilization plant.

Ethylene oxide, or EtO, is an odorless, colorless volatile gas known to cause cancer. Though safer, alternative methods exist, Sterigenics International in Willowbrook, Illinois chose to use EtO to sterilize and fumigate products on a commercial scale.

Residents who live near the plant are demanding answers and the immediate closure of the plant after the area surrounding the plant was identified on a national map of health hazards from breathing toxic chemicals. The publication of the map prompted an investigation by federal officials and numerous other agencies. Data from air samples taken by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2018 showed the census tract in the area has a cancer risk that is 64 times higher than the EPA’s acceptable limits and is in the 99.9th percentile in terms of cancer risk in the country. The densely populated area is now the 19th largest cancer cluster in the country, and the largest cancer cluster in the Midwest.

Hundreds of residents in the area who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, lymphoma, leukemia, fertility issues, and many other serious health concerns have come forward and hired attorneys to bring legal action against the company. Nearly 20,000 people live within one mile of the facility, and four schools and one day care center are also located nearby.

“Anyone who lives, works, or regularly travels near the area surrounding Sterigenics has been exposed. What’s worse is this company knew they were poisoning their neighbors and they attempted to hide it. Sterigenics gambled and these residents lost. These communities are sick of hearing excuses, it’s time something is done to shut this plant down,” Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard, P.C. said.

READ MORE | Multiple lawsuits filed against Sterigenics for emitting cancer-causing toxin 

The communities have banded together and formed the “Stop Sterigenics” group to persuade lawmakers to ban the chemical and close the facility, which they say has been in frequent violation of environmental laws since 1989. The group now boasts more than 7,500 Facebook members and organizes regular protests outside the plant.

Sterigenics insists they are operating safely and legally, and the EPA has since released a statement saying they “discovered an issue with the way ethylene oxide has been measured. As a result of the issue, monitors may have reported higher ambient levels of ethylene oxide than actually exist.” But the EPA did not state there is no longer a concern about the levels of EtO present in Willowbrook due to the plant’s emissions.

Attorneys representing sick residents have asked the EPA to turn over documents that show their communication with Sterigenics, and the requests have been ignored.

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