The Chicago Tribune recently reported on a new federal study by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) – released just last week – that highlights a danger to Willowbrook residents who live near Sterigenics International, at 830 Midway Drive and 7775 S. Quincy St., in Willowbrook, IL. According to the report, the people living near this facility face a higher cancer risk from toxic air pollution than much of the rest of the country.
Why? Apparently, Sterigenics uses and stores a toxic gas called “ethylene oxide” to sterilize medical equipment, and has been releasing that cancer-causing chemical into the air since at least 1995.
Ethylene oxide has been listed on the federal list of carcinogens as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” since 1985. In 2000, that listing was revised to “known to be a human carcinogen”. Finally, in 2016, the US EPA – after much delay – released a new assessment of the toxic gas that concluded that ethylene oxide was even more dangerous than originally thought.
In fact, EPA determined that the cancer risk from inhaling the ethylene oxide was 30 times greater than previously believed.
This EPA assessment triggered an update of a federal screening tool – the National Air Toxics Assessment – that identifies areas of the country that have a potential problem with air pollution. The area around the Sterigenics facility in Willowbrook popped up as an area needing more investigation. So, in May of this year, the US EPA began sampling the air in the commercial areas and neighborhoods near the Sterigenics facility.
The result was disturbing. Ethylene oxide levels in the air presented an elevated cancer risk to the people living and working near the Sterigenics facility. In fact, the EPA estimated the lifetime risk of cancer to nearby residents at 9 times the national average. The ATSDR estimated that cancer risk to be potentially much higher, at up to 6400 per million people. To put that in perspective, the EPA considers a 100 per million-lifetime cancer risk to be acceptable. The bottom line: Sterigenics’ ethylene oxide emissions were making nearby residents significantly more likely to get cancer.
According to federal agency documents, there is strong evidence in scientific studies on human populations that ethylene oxide is linked to an increased risk of:
· Breast cancer
· Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
· Multiple myeloma
Studies in rats and mice also suggest a possible link to:
· Lung cancer
· Gliomas of the brain
· Peritoneal mesothelioma
· Uterine cancer
In July of this year, Sterigenics installed new equipment that, according to a spokesperson for the company, reduces the plant’s ethylene oxide emissions by 90%. If that is true, it is a good start, but it is probably of only modest comfort to the 19,000 Willowbrook residents who live within a mile of the plant, and who may have been exposed to the toxic emissions for years.
These people need and deserve answers.
For starters, they need Sterigenics to answer these questions:
· Why didn’t the company install much sooner than last month the emissions-reducing equipment? After all, ethylene oxide has been a “probable” cancer causer for years.
· When did the company first have this equipment available?
· When did the company first know of the dangers of the ethylene oxide it was using?
· Has the company itself done any studies to learn the geographic area impacted by its toxic releases?
Furthermore, where was EPA all these years? Did it do anything to protect Willowbrook’s families? Government now needs to explain what the ATSDR reports mean to the people who live near the plant, and to conduct more air sampling to let area residents know:
· The size of the affected area,
· what current pollution levels are,
· whether the air in the nearby schools is safe,
· and whether the recent upgrade at the facility is indeed reducing ethylene oxide emissions as claimed.
Beyond that, an investigation should be started to determine if a cancer cluster exists in the area due to Sterigenics air pollution.
In the meantime, residents living or working within 2 miles of Sterigenics who have questions about their health or legal options, are urged to contact Shawn Collins at The Collins Law Firm, 630-527-1595, ext. 221. We are currently investigating multiple cancer lawsuits for residents of Willowbrook, Burr Ridge, and Darien.
We are a trusted, experienced, environmental personal injury law firm, and have been representing clients diagnosed with cancer after being exposed to toxic chemicals for years. Our mission is holding polluters accountable–in situations just like this. You can learn about our work here.
The people of Willowbrook deserve to know all available information about these threats to their health and property. And they deserve to know it now.
For more information see:
To read the ATSDR Study or the EPA assessment of ethylene oxide, click on these links:
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, World Health Organization Report: Airline Passengers and Crew Exposed to Toxic Air