Sterigenics Closed over Ethylene Oxide Emissions in Willowbrook, but Others Persist
Back in September of last year, news broke that the Sterigenics medical equipment sterilization facility was allegedly producing alarming levels of ethylene oxide emissions in Willowbrook, Illinois. After months of additional testing and community activism, the Illinois EPA issued a seal order to temporarily close the Sterigenics facility. And while this is welcome news for environmentalists and members of the Willowbrook community, Sterigenics is not the only facility emitting large amounts of ethylene oxide in Illinois.
Ethylene oxide is a colorless gas that is used primarily in the production of other chemicals, including antifreeze. In smaller amounts, ethylene oxide is used as a sterilizing agent. According to the U.S. National Cancer Institute, the chemical is mutagenic in humans, with chronic exposure being associated with increased cancer risks including leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and breast cancer.
Ethylene oxide emissions in Willowbrook first drew public attention following a report from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. The report evaluated potential health risks of ethylene oxide emissions and found that an elevated cancer risk exists for residents and off-site workers in the community surrounding the Willowbrook Sterigenics facility.
Residents were understandably outraged and called for the Willowbrook Sterigenics to be closed. A battery of environmental testing of the air and water were performed, which showed “extreme daily fluctuations” and “the highest levels of [ethylene oxide] recorded in the area to date.” State and local officials were quick to join the call for Sterigenics to be closed.
“We need to have them shut down. They might have a permit to operate, but they don’t have a permit to create a public health crisis,” said Burr Ridge Acting Mayor Zach Mottl.
And that’s just what happened. On February 15th it was announced that the Illinois EPA suspended operations at the Willowbrook Sterigenics facility. Representatives from Sterigenics condemned the closure, and quickly filed an emergency motion to reopen the facility.
But while the issue of ethylene oxide emissions in Willowbrook shifts to the courtroom, other communities in Lake County Illinois are feeling isolated and forgotten.
Last November, Wexler Wallace Attorney Bryan Pasciak reported on news that similar plants in Gurnee and Waukegan were also emitting high levels of ethylene oxide, contributing to rates of increased cancer risk significantly higher than the national average.
Despite the fact that nearly 42,000 people live in the affected communities, many residents of Waukegan and Gurnee feel as though their cries are falling on deaf ears. Petitions to monitor air quality near the Vantage Specialty Chemicals facility in Gurnee and the Medline Industries plant in Waukegan have gone unanswered, and the EPA has been less than transparent in communicating with the affected communities. A webpage addressing the concerns was added to the EPA website in November, but does not appear to have been updated since.
Frustrated by the lack of urgency from the federal government, residents have turned to each other for support. The group Stop EtO in Lake County was created so residents could share news and organize efforts to draw attention to the issue.
Wexler Wallace is currently investigating claims regarding ethylene oxide emissions. If you or a loved one are a resident of the affected areas and have suffered injury due to ethylene oxide exposure, please submit the contact form below to discuss your potential claim with one of our attorneys.
Sterigenics photo courtesy of Google Streetview