EPA to Test Willowbrook Air Quality Following Congressional Action
Amid public outcry from residents concerned that a known carcinogen has potentially been polluting the air in Willowbrook for decades, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has agreed to begin air quality testing in Willowbrook as requested by members of Congress.
Residents of the Southwestern Chicago suburb were blindsided by reports suggesting that Willowbrook-based company Sterigenics was emitting Ethylene Oxide – a known carcinogen – into the air. In response, U.S. Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Representative Bill Foster (D-IL-11) urged the EPA and Sterigenics to immediately test the local air quality for Ethylene Oxide emissions and make their findings available to the public.
“A recent investigation on the air quality in Willowbrook has led to concerns that Sterigenics operations could be adversely affecting public health,” the Members of Congress wrote. “The EPA must monitor the ambient air at Sterigenics and ensure that data is publicly accessible. This transparency will help Willowbrook residents and workers at the facility determine whether a public health risk exists and go a long way in reassuring the community that the information being relayed to them is accurate and without bias.”
In addition to testing in Willowbrook, the members of Congress also asked the EPA to conduct ethylene oxide emission testing at locations around the country where the chemical is used.
In response, the EPA has agreed to perform “ambient air testing” at the Sterigenics location in Willowbrook.
The report produced by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a division of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), recommended that Sterigenics take immediate action to reduce Ethylene Oxide emissions. Data from the 2014 National Air Toxins Assessment map show that the Willowbrook community has the second highest risk of cancer in the country.
Unsurprisingly, Willowbrook residents are shocked and outraged by these findings. Many in the community have been sharing stories of loved ones who have been lost to cancer, questioning if Ethylene Oxide emissions contributed to their illnesses. Residents have reached out to local law firms about potential lawsuits, and have called for Sterigenics to leave their community.
A Sterigenics spokesperson maintains that that Ethylene Oxide emitted by the company are “well within permitted levels” and does not present a health threat to the Willowbrook community. The company upgraded it ventilation system to end its practice of venting Ethylene Oxide into the air in July of this year, a move they claim will reduce emissions by 90%.
In 2016, the EPA updated its risk assessment of Ethylene Oxide emissions, the first time it had done so since 1985. They found that Ethylene Oxide posed a 30 times greater cancer risk than previously believed.