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IL senators request immediate, independent investigation into allegations of misconduct at EPA

CHICAGO (January 25, 2019) – U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth have 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.

During Environmental Protection Agency Administrator nominee Andrew Wheeler’s Senate confirmation hearing on January 16, Duckworth (D-IL) questioned why EPA staff are not inspecting facilities that emit the known carcinogen ethylene oxide.

“We know that ethylene oxide is a dangerous toxin that poses a public health risk for communities in Illinois, which is why the allegation that political staff at EPA have ordered the civil servants there not to inspect any facility in our region that emits ethylene oxide is so alarming. Yesterday evening when we checked EPA’s public enforcement and compliance website, we discovered that no ethylene oxide inspection has happened since EPA discovered that an increased cancer risk exists for the community next to Sterigenics,” Duckworth said during the hearing. “That’s unacceptable. I’m planning on asking the EPA Inspector General to launch an internal investigation and I asked Acting Administrator Wheeler to support that investigation today.”

Senator Dick Durbin later joined Duckworth in calling for an investigation into any lapses in testing. “If the lax inspection and enforcement activity is a result of politically-motivated interference overriding recommendations of career staff, that would elevate our concerns from simple poor performance to potential outright misconduct by political appointees,” he said in a statement.

A check of the EPA’s ECHO database shows the last test published on Sterigenics was from Sept. 28, 2018, four months ago. That entry shows the facility passed a stack test lead by the Illinois EPA, the Illinois News Network reports. 

Before the government shutdown began in December, an EPA staffer said air quality samples would continue to be collected and analyzed; however, the results would not be “quality assured and data would not be posted to the web until after the federal government reopens.”

Duckworth and Durbin have been strong advocates for residents in Illinois communities with facilities like Sterigenics that produce ethylene oxide emissions. They have repeatedly asked the EPA to update its safety standards that regulate the carcinogen.

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