Concerned about cancerous pollution by ethylene oxide, Governor J.B. Pritzker orders the closure of Sterigenics in Willowbrook



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Governor JB Pritzker's administration on Friday banned Sterigenics from using ethylene oxide at its Willowbrook sterilization plant in response to a public outcry over public outcry over air pollution that left surrounding neighborhoods among the highest cancer risk in the country.

Pritzker, the state's new Democratic Governor, has ordered the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to intervene a week after the Trump administration had announced to residents that it was not necessary. There was still not enough evidence to sue the Oak Brook-based company, partly owned by a private equity fund founded by the former Republican government Bruce Rauner.

Citing an authority rarely used in national laws, Illinois Illinois director John Kim banned Sterigenics from pumping ethylene oxide gas into large chambers used to sterilize medical equipment, drugs, spices and foods.

Kim's order mentions a federal study that says the chemical is so toxic that even minute concentrations regularly fleeing the company's two buildings pose a significant risk to health.

"Governor Pritzker is committed to using all the tools available to protect the health and well-being of the people of Illinois," said spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh in a statement. "The governor will continue to take all available and necessary measures."

Trump's EPA politicians take a more cautious approach, although tests at Willowbrook, Burr Ridge and Darien in late November and December revealed higher volatile gas peaks than detected concentrations before the installation by the company of new pollution control equipment. year.

William Wehrum, senior administrator of the administration's air administration, said last week that the US EPA would reassess cancer risks in the Willowbrook area after collecting more air samples during of the coming month and combined the results with a computer modeling of the pollution emitted by Sterigenics.

The samples analyzed so far suggest that some days air traffic controllers record other unknown sources of ethylene oxide, Wehrum said. This means that the agency needs more time to assess hazards, determine the extent of Sterigenics' responsibility, and determine how to mitigate future risks. shows. He also stated that there was no doubt that Sterigenics was responsible for alarming levels of chemicals in the community.

About 19,000 people in southeastern DuPage County live within one kilometer of the Willowbrook facility. Four schools and a daycare center are nearby, including Hinsdale South High School in Darien and Gower Middle in Burr Ridge.

Sterigenics has promised to fight law and order in court.

"The Illinois EPA's shares aimed at suspending the Sterigenics Willowbrook facility's operations are untenable," the company said in a statement. "Unilaterally preventing a company that operates in compliance with all state permits and regulations from fulfilling its vital function is a dangerous precedent."

Frustrated by the pace of federal and state investigations, Willowbrook officials hired their own consultants to collect air samples using the same type of equipment deployed in the community by Federal EPA. The village issued an update Friday indicating that high levels of ethylene oxide had been detected in early February in front of the Willowbrook Police Department, across from Sterigenics in a cluster of government and industrial buildings located near Illinois Route 83 and Stevenson Expressway.

The pollution levels reached 160 micrograms per liter of air, according to the results of the tests carried out by the village. Higher than expected levels were also detected at Gower Middle School (6.12) and Gower Elementary (3.1).

Regular exposure to 2.1 micrograms of ethylene oxide per cubic meter of air could cause more than 6 cancers per 1,000 exposed people, according to the Agency for the registry of toxic substances and diseases, a branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Federal regulators typically target polluters when local cancer risks are greater than 100 in a million.

"We have to work to make sure they do not reopen," said Melissa Alvarado, a Willowbrook resident, at a press conference organized by the community group Stop Sterigenics. "We must ban emissions of ethylene oxide. No level of poison is safe. "

The Chicago Tribune reported for the first time that federal and state officials had begun to take a closer look at Sterigenics by the end of 2017, after determining that cancer risks in a census tract located near the US border. establishment were more than nine times higher than the national average.

At the time the US EPA quietly released its findings online in August, another federal agency had estimated that the effects could be much more serious, prompting local, provincial and federal lawmakers to seek a thorough investigation.

The Tribune announced in December that chemical companies and government health agencies knew since at least the late 1970s that ethylene oxide mutated genes and caused breast cancer, leukemia and lymphomas. After Willowbrook's plant owners applied for a new permit in the mid-1980s, regulators felt that people living within one kilometer of the facility were at risk of breathing. the highly toxic gas at concentrations 14 times higher than those suggested by the studies at the time. .

Ethylene oxide has been on the federal list of carcinogens since 1985. In December 2016, the US EPA released a new long-delayed assessment that formally added the agency to a list of other national and international organizations stating that the substance posed significant cancer risks to humans.

Whenever federal or state regulators try to protect Americans from ethylene oxide, industry groups fuel fear of infection in hospitals.

More nuanced views are outlined in a 2017 report from the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation, a professional group of which Sterigenics is a member. The charts compiled by the group's standardization committee show that virtually all types of medical equipment can be sterilized without ethylene oxide. The report noted that companies may not switch to alternatives because "they invest heavily in a particular sterilization method".

Sterigenics became a major issue in the 2018 elections, political leaders of both parties urged the company to shut down Willowbrook's facilities and pass legislation to phase out the use of this chemical in Washington, DC and Washington. Springfield.

Earlier this week, Americans Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, along with representatives Sean Casten, Bill Foster, Dan Lipinski and Brad Schneider, called for an independent investigation into the company's pollution. The inspector general of the US EPA is already interested in the Trump administration's response to the situation.

"I appreciate the efforts of all those who have worked together over the past year to finally bring back the safety and tranquility of spirit in our community," said Friday the leader of the minority from the Illinois House, Jim Durkin, R-Darien. "Sterigenics has let down our residents, and today's action should warn other entities that threaten the health and safety of Illinois residents."

Kimberly Fornek from Pioneer Press also contributed.

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MORE COVERAGE

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