Last week, Governor Rauner finally joined the group of elected officials calling for the shutdown of the Sterigenics facility in Willowbrook. Officials had pressured Rauner to take action to protect the community after weeks of public outcry following the recent release of a report about cancer-causing emissions coming from the plant.
That report, written by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, detailed a three-decade-long contamination of the Willowbrook area with a toxic carcinogen, ethylene oxide, by Sterigenics. The authors of the report came to the conclusion–after evaluating ethylene oxide testing done near the facility last May–that the emissions from Sterigenics posed “a public health hazard” and an elevated cancer risk for the community. In fact, the report estimated the cancer risk of exposed residents in the area to be 64 times the EPA’s acceptable lifetime risk.
Understandably, residents, many of whom already had cancer or who had lost a family member to cancer, were outraged. How could this have happened and how could any elected official allow it to continue happening?
Rauner’s reaction to the situation however, was dismissive: he downplayed any cancer risk, even going so far as to air an ad about the situation in Willowbrook, claiming that “This is not an emergency. This is not a public health immediate crisis.” Then he denied any ownership in the company– even though records show that he receives income from an investment fund with ownership in the company. But it got worse. His hand-picked EPA director, Alec Messina, in an unprecedented move, refused to give Illinois’ attorney general key documents about ethylene oxide emissions at Sterigenics, using the feeble excuse that Sterigenics had declared the documents to be confidential. Rauner’s failure to act in the best interest of the people of Willowbrook was disappointing.
Now, Rauner, obviously because an election is coming up, has joined others in calling for Sterigenics to close down, referring the case to Attorney General Lisa Madigan and asking for a court order to shut the facility down until a federal investigation can assure the community that it will not pose a health risk to the community.
Unfortunately, this is too little too late. For the families of Willowbrook, the damage has already been done. Some are currently facing cancer, and still, others may develop cancer in the future, because of past exposure to ethylene oxide emissions from Sterigenics. Where was all this concern in 1998 when ethylene oxide was a probable carcinogen and Sterigenics was pumping out 31,000 pounds of it, or in 2000 when the US Dept. of Health and Human Services classified ethylene oxide as a known carcinogen and Sterigenics was still pumping 7341 pounds of this toxic chemical into the air? Or any of the many years after that when Sterigenics continued to poison the community? Why didn’t someone in government stop this contamination long ago, before so many people got sick?
Now, Rauner and the other officials cannot help the families already suffering from ethylene oxide exposure–only doctors and lawyers can–but they can prevent further illness by protecting everyone in the community from future exposure if they take this issue seriously. The question is: will they? Have enough people gotten cancer and made enough noise to make them care?
Will the Rauners of this world make a big gesture and then hope the issue fades away? And later, after a shoddy federal investigation, go back to business as usual, allowing Sterigenics to go on as though nothing happened? Or will our elected officials keep their promise to the people of Willowbrook by pushing the IL EPA to draft new rules seriously limiting ethylene oxide emissions and closing Sterigenics down permanently?
We will see.
If you or a loved one are facing cancer because of exposure to ethylene oxide from Sterigenics, please call our experienced environmental toxic tort lawyers at 630-527-1595 for a free consultation.
Related Posts: Cancer Causing Chemicals: What Willowbrook Residents Can Learn from the Lockformer TCE Lawsuits, Willowbrook Environmental Cancer Attorneys, Government Sides with Sterigenics Over Ethylene Oxide Pollution in Willowbrook, Willowbrook Residents Need Answers from EPA and Sterigenics About Ethylene Oxide Emissions and Cancer Risk