Ethylene Oxide/Sterigenics Updates

Articles Tagged with toxic vapors

Hundreds of Willowbrook residents filled a standing-room-only meeting last night. They came to hear their government explain whether their health is in danger due to the ethylene oxide pollution that a local company, Sterigenics, has been belching into their neighborhood for the last 30 years.

Ethylene oxide is a nasty carcinogen. But the people of Willowbrook had no idea that such a chemical even existed, let alone that it had been in their neighborhood for decades. Until last week.

Sterigenics has known–probably since the 1980’s–that it was causing ethylene oxide pollution in Willowbrook. So did government, or at least it should have known. Its job was to know. Hard to say what is worse: the government knowing about the ethylene oxide pollution for many years and doing nothing to protect the people of Willowbrook, or the government not knowing anything about the problem until just now.

Yet another case of toxic vapors invading homes through the process of vapor intrusion came to light recently in Madison, Wisconsin, where families were told that the air in their homes has been polluted with carcinogenic chemicals from the nearby Madison-Kipp manufacturing plant. PCE, a dangerous cleaning solvent which was allegedly disposed of decades ago, and supposedly cleaned up, is now showing up in homes near the plant property. Some of the homes have been fitted with vapor sucking devices designed to pull the polluted vapors out from under the homes to prevent contamination of the air inside.  The families, many of whom have young children, are being told that the dumping of the harmful chemical took place “decades ago”, that the levels are “slightly” elevated, and that the problem is just a “potential concern”.  But, nothing could be further from the truth.  The truth is that the company claims to have stopped using the chemical more than 25 years ago and also claims to have cleaned up its property.  Very few homes have been tested. The extent of the problem has not been determined.  The levels which have been detected are many times higher than the levels considered safe by many regulatory agencies. The truth about these vapor intrusion problems can be sobering.  Often times we see exactly what has happened here.  The company claims to have stopped using the chemical and claims to have cleaned its property.  But, these chemicals typically contaminate the groundwater under the factory and move with it off the plant property under nearby homes.  The water then off-gases these dangerous chemicals into the homes sitting on top of the contaminated water.  The fumes are odorless, so the people living in the homes have no idea they are there.  And, unlike then problem presented by polluted tap water which exposes people when they ingest it or bathe in it, people are exposed to these chemicals 24/7…even when they sleep. Unless, and until, the contaminated water is cleaned, these families will remain in harms way.  It goes without saying that even a home fitted with one of these vapor-sucking contraptions will be difficult, if not impossible, to sell.  The American dream of those families becomes a nightmare.

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