Protecting Public Health in Response to Ethylene Oxide Reports

In December of 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) updated its estimate of cancer risk caused by ethylene oxide, a gas used to sterilize medical equipment and produce other chemicals.  Our scientific understanding of the human health impact of this chemical has advanced significantly in recent decades, and as a result the estimated cancer risk posed has increased by a factor of 30 from the USEPA’s previous estimate in 1985.  Because of this change, the estimated public health risk posed by facilities that emit ethylene oxide has gone up.

On August 22, 2018, the USEPA released the latest version of its National Air Toxics Assessment, which maps cancer risk around the country based on air concentrations of 180 pollutants, including ethylene oxide.  This map used the updated cancer risk estimate for ethylene oxide which resulted in a significantly higher estimated cancer risk around the Sterigenics facility in Willowbrook and a higher estimated risk around the Elé Corporation facility in McCook.  This increase in predicted cancer risk is alarming.  Since this assessment was released, Congressman Lipinski has been in regular communication with federal and state agencies and both companies to take quick and decisive action to protect public health.

It’s important to note that the air pollution data used in the latest National Air Toxics Assessment is from 2014 and does not reflect current conditions.  The two private businesses have reported taking steps to address the emissions and collect evidence that their emissions are lower than reported, and the Congressman is awaiting independent verification of these claims.

According to the Illinois EPA, the emissions from the facilities are not an immediate threat to public health and are not considered to be an emergency situation.  However, Lipinski is calling for an independent assessment of the health risks, taking into account recent changes in pollution controls at the Sterigenics facility as well as the effects of cumulative exposures prior to those changes, as people are understandably concerned about the potential effects of ethylene oxide on their health.

Actions Congressman Lipinski Has Taken: