Gov. Bruce Rauner has instructed the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to refer an enforcement action to the Illinois Attorney General’s Office against Sterigenics International in Willowbrook, IL. The enforcement action would order the company to discontinue operations that could result in any emissions of a gas that has been linked to cancer pending a complete review of the risk to the public.
Sterigenics Releasing Cancer-Causing Gas
On August 21, 2018, the United States Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) released a report alleging that Sterigenics International, a company providing product sterilization services, is releasing high levels of ethylene oxide gas into the atmosphere.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) has determined that human exposure to ethylene oxide gas can increase the likelihood of developing significant health problems. Specifically, ethylene oxide has been strongly linked to an increased risk of the following diseases:
- Breast Cancer.
- Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.
- Multiple Myeloma.
Additional studies have suggested a possible link between exposure to ethylene oxide and the development of these health conditions:
- Pancreatic Cancer.
- Stomach Cancer.
- Lung Cancer.
- Uterine Cancer.
- Brain Gliomas.
- Peritoneal Mesothelioma.
- Testicular Degeneration.
- DNA Mutations.
- Birth Defects.
Based on measurements taken in May 2018 in the area outside of the Sterigenics facility in Willowbrook, the ATSDR report concluded that there is an elevated cancer risk for residents and offsite workers in the surrounding community. Specifically, the cancer risk could be as high as 6,400 per million, or more than six cases of cancer for every 1,000 people. The US EPA typically targets polluters when the local cancer risk exceeds 100 per million.
“Immediate Injunctive Relief”
Following the report, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) issued Sterigenics a permit to voluntarily install new pollution-control equipment. Now, under orders from Gov. Rauner, IEPA Director Alec Messina has referred an enforcement action to the Illinois Attorney General’s Office seeking “immediate injunctive relief” against Sterigenics.
The enforcement action would enjoin Sterigenics “from continuing operations that result in any emissions of ethylene oxide either until a complete review of additional modeling and risk assessment is completed by US EPA or until US EPA otherwise assures the community that resumed operations would not present an elevated health risk.”
Despite the order, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said that her office cannot make an effective legal case against Sterigenics without information that only the state or federal EPA can provide, including air quality monitoring in surrounding neighborhoods and expert analysis of the results.
“We are prepared to move forward in court,” said Madigan, “and have told IEPA what evidence is necessary to shut the site down.”
On September 28, Illinois officials and community representatives met with the US EPA to discuss the status of its ongoing testing and evaluation of Sterigenics. In a statement following the meeting, the IEPA noted that “it is evident that additional weeks or months will pass before US EPA will be in a position to provide an updated risk assessment and propose any resulting changes to relevant regulations.”
If you live or work near the Sterigenics facility in Willowbrook and believe that you have been exposed to the cancer-causing gas ethylene oxide, please contact GWC for a free consultation with one of our attorneys. Call us at (312) 464-1234 or click here to chat with one of our representatives at any time.