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Study finds spike in cancer cases for people living near Sterigenics plant in Willowbrook

WILLOWBROOK, Ill. (April 1, 2019) – A report released by the Illinois Department of Public Health last week shows there is a concerning spike in cancer cases for people living near the Sterigenics facility in Willowbrook. The first-of-its kind study also found differences and inconsistencies between genders, across the study areas, and among types of cancer.

The 40-page report was based on an assessment of cases reported to the Illinois State Cancer Registry between 1995 and 2015. The research showed that there are a higher number of women diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma within 15 miles of the of the plant. Within 40 miles, the assessment reports an increased occurrence of breast cancer, as well as a slightly higher number of pediatric girls with lymphoma. The numbers of prostate, female pancreatic and ovarian cancer patients also increased.

There was also a slight but steady increase in non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma among women in both areas during the study period that became more pronounced after 2009.

READ MORE | IDPH Cancer Assessment for Area Surrounding Sterigenics Facility 

The health department began taking a closer look at the area last summer after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated the risk of cancer in a census tract near Sterigenics is more than nine times higher than the national average.

The report is the first tally of actual cases of cancer reported in west suburban communities near the medical sterilization facility. The health department said further studies will be coming in the future.

“This study was an important step in better understanding potential cancer risks that may be associated with ethylene oxide, and we are concerned that elevated incidence of some cancers were found in the area. We will immediately begin to design an additional research study to understand the impact of ethylene oxide on cancers so that residents have a more complete picture,” IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a statement.

About 19,000 people who live within one mile of the facility are calling the release of the assessment a victory. Since its release, it has fueled bipartisan calls to keep the facility closed for good.

Last week, EPA officials said air testing since the facility has been shut down showed a rapid drop in ethylene oxide in the air.

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