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Lawmakers request criminal investigation, other immediate actions to protect residents from Sterigenics toxic emissions

WASHINGTON, D.C. (February 13, 2019) – A group of lawmakers sent a letter to the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Wednesday demanding the agency take several immediate actions to protect communities near the Sterigenics plant in Willowbrook.

In the letter, U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), U.S. Representatives Brad Schneider (D-IL-10), Bill Foster (D-IL-11), Dan Lipinski (D-IL-03), and Sean Casten (D-IL-06) called on the U.S. EPA to open a criminal investigation into allegations of misconduct alleged by former Sterigenics employees in a CBS News story that ran after the Super Bowl. In the package, former Sterigenics employees told CBS Investigative Reporter Dave Savini the company took extraordinary steps to cover up the release of the cancer-causing gas ethylene oxide and secretly operated other facilities in the suburbs.

WATCH | Sterigenics allegedly covered up toxic emissions, operated secret plants

“Among the allegations made were failure to accurately self-report EtO emissions, improper venting practices, failure to protect workers with respirators and masks and dumping ethylene glycol into public sewage drains. It is critical that you immediately direct your Criminal Enforcement Division to open a criminal investigation into these claims. Doing so will reassure the workers there that they have not been forgotten,” the letter states.

The group also requested the EPA:

  • Order an emission audit of Sterigenics to be conducted by a third-party and unbiased engineering firm
  • Use authority to publish an interim final rule for for sterilizers
  • Abandon unprecedented effort to diminish EPA ‘s EtO risk assessment
  • Investigate Sterigenics’ conditional registration of EtO under under the Federal Insecticide , Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA)
  • Continue ambient air monitoring around Sterigenics, beyond the current 3-month plan, and ensure the results of monitoring are made publicly available
  • Commission a Nationwide study on the background levels of EtO

The senators and representatives also asked the EPA submit a written response with a clear timeline of when the EPA will initiate and complete the seven requests.

“It is time for EPA to move from fact-finding to acting on this public health threat in Willowbrook,” the letter states.

The letter was sent just a week after the EPA released results from air quality tests that show ethylene oxide readings closest to the factory are well above the threshold for cancer risk.

In January, Senators Durbin and Duckworth called for an investigation into reports that President Donald Trump ordered appointees to stop testing for a cancer-causing chemical at sterilization facilities in Illinois and around the country. Both senators have been strong advocates for residents in Illinois communities with facilities like Sterigenics that produce ethylene oxide emissions. and have repeatedly asked the EPA to update its safety standards that regulate the carcinogen.

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