Illinois Ethylene Oxide Pollution Report Blasts EPA

A federal report finds that political appointees at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) prevented stronger action on Illinois ethylene oxide pollution.

EPA “Delayed” Informing Community

The Illinois ethylene oxide pollution report was released by the EPA Office of Inspector General (IG) on April 15, 2021. The report details the IG’s findings on EPA ethylene oxide enforcement in “Region 5,” which includes northern Illinois. The IG concluded that industry-connected Trump administration political appointees blocked the EPA from investigating ethylene oxide polluters and prevented career staffers from warning thousands living near sources of the cancer-causing gas.

“Specifically,” according to the report, “Office of Air and Radiation leadership delayed informing the Willowbrook…community about the results of the EPA’s May 2018 short-term monitoring around the Sterigenics facility and did not conduct public meetings with residents either near the Medline facility in Waukegan…or the Vantage facility in Gurnee.”

GWC Injury Lawyers LLC has filed suit on behalf of various cancer victims who were exposed to ethylene oxide emissions from the Sterigenics facility in Willowbrook.

Repeated Political Interference

According to the IG, the repeated political interference and grossly inadequate level of public education about Illinois ethylene oxide pollution stood in stark opposition to the EPA’s mission of protecting the environment and human health. The report details this interference in shocking detail.

In May 2018, a small number of career employees at the Chicago EPA office conducted testing near Sterigenics to help uncover the local impacts of ethylene oxide emissions from the facility. They shared their findings with another federal health agency, which concluded that cancer risks in neighborhoods near the Willowbrook plant could be up to 6,400 per million – more than six cases of cancer for every 1,000 people exposed to ethylene oxide in their lifetimes. These results are especially alarming given that the EPA considers it an unacceptable risk if 100 cases of cancer are diagnosed per every million people who inhale pollution.

A report on these preliminary findings prompted elected officials and residents to organize coalitions that successfully pressured the EPA to conduct more extensive monitoring of air quality in Willowbrook. A subsequent EPA study found that, even after Sterigenics enhanced its pollution-control equipment, ethylene oxide emissions from the plant increased the risk of developing cancer for people living as far as 25 miles away. Sterigenics ended up closing its Willowbrook facility in September 2019.

The EPA’s top representative during the public meetings in the Willowbrook area was Bill Wehrum, an industry lawyer who led the EPA’s air office at the time. Wehrum repeatedly promised that the Trump administration was taking aggressive action to protect the community from ethylene oxide pollution.

Behind the scenes, however, Wehrum reportedly banned staff in the EPA’s regional office from inspecting other sources of Illinois ethylene oxide pollution unless they received specific requests from state officials. Wehrum and senior political aides also allegedly ordered the EPA’s regional office to take down a website outlining the health risks of ethylene oxide in Willowbrook. When the EPA restored the website two months later, references to the fact that ethylene oxide is a dangerous carcinogen had been removed.

An earlier report by the IG had condemned Trump appointees for not scheduling public meetings about ethylene oxide in 16 of the 25 communities nationwide where the lifetime risk of developing cancer exceeds agency guidelines – including two communities impacted by Illinois ethylene oxide pollution. According to EPA data, over 500,000 Americans exposed to toxic air pollution face unacceptable cancer risks, with ethylene oxide being the primary chemical of concern.

Justice for Illinois Ethylene Oxide Pollution Victims

GWC Injury Lawyers LLC has filed suit on behalf of multiple parties who have lived or worked near the Sterigenics facility for a number of years and have developed cancers or other serious medical conditions that may be related to their exposure to ethylene oxide gas.

If you have lived or worked near the Sterigenics facility in Willowbrook and have been diagnosed with cancer, contact GWC today to schedule a free, no-obligation case evaluation with one of our Chicago personal injury lawyers. You may call our office at (312) 464-1234 or click here to chat with a representative at any time.