Last week, the EPA’s Inspector General issued a report slamming his own agency for failing to alert Americans living near plants using a chemical known as ethylene oxide (EtO) that their health is in danger because EtO is such a potent cancer-causer. The report concludes that: “The EPA needs to inform residents who live near facilities with significant [EtO] emissions about their elevated estimated cancer risks so they can manage their health risks.”
A bit of background: In 2016, the EPA finally joined other health agencies in classifying EtO as “known” to cause cancer in humans–specifically breast cancer, lymphomas, and leukemias. In fact, the EPA found that EtO is 30 times more dangerous to human health than the agency had previously recognized. Case in point: for the community of Willowbrook, IL, a Chicago suburb, EtO concentrations measured in 2018 testing resulted in a cancer risk 6,400 times the 1 in 1 million risk that the EPA considers “acceptable”. I and other lawyers represent dozens of Willowbrook area residents who have filed lawsuits claiming that exposure to EtO emitted for decades by a local plant known as “Sterigenics” caused their, or a deceased loved one’s, cancer.
With this 2016 finding, the EPA had committed to warning the residents living near the nation’s 25 plants using ethylene oxide. These residents are in danger because, after the EtO is used in those plants to kill bacteria during the process of sterilizing medical equipment, the potentially lethal chemical is then released from the plant through vents or stacks (and sometimes doors and windows), where air currents often push it into the nearby homes, school, churches, parks, and businesses of adjacent residential communities.