Lisa Madigan: Rauner's office hid health dangers of Willowbrook Sterigenics plant for months

WILLOWBROOK, Ill. (WLS) -- Representatives from the Illinois Attorney General's office accused the Rauner administration Friday of hiding information about the cancer risk at the Sterigenics plant in Willowbrook.

Governor Rauner's office knew about the risk for eight months, the Attorney General's office alleged.

A spokesperson for the attorney general said they fought to get information from the Illinois EPA and are pursuing legal action.

Controversy has surrounded Sterigenics since the United States EPA reported a higher cancer risk from toxic air pollutions, most notably ethylene oxide.

State lawmakers held a hearing Friday to hear from those who live near the plant.

Among those residents was Gabriela Tejeda Rios and her daughters. Rios said her family are the closest residents to the facility.

"We feel trapped. It's easy to say 'why don't you just move?' But we can't," Tejeda said. "It's not an option for us. My children are being poisoned 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And I cannot protect them from it."

After hearing from several speakers, some lawmakers called for action.

"At the very least, we need to temporarily shut this down," said Representative Grant Wehrli of the 41st District.

"This place needs to close now. I don't want to be responsible for anybody who is going to get sick," said Representative Luis Arroyo of the Illinois 3rd District.

Earlier in October, Sterigenics released a report that said all chemical levels are below federal limits. In a letter, the company said it "respectfully declines" to testify.

Sterigenics also emphasized the company has been "in compliance" with federal and state regulations. Industry associations backed Sterigenics Friday.

"You just can't slap up a new facility in a cornfield overnight. You shut this down, there is really no place to go," said Mark Biel of the Chemical Industry Council of Illinois.
"I believe we are setting a dangerous precedent in asking for a company to be shut down or abandoning etholyne oxide when the science is still being debated," said Donovan Griffith of the Illinois Manufacturers' Association.

In the meantime, the political fallout of the issue has grown as the public is left with few answers.

"You have a very simple job to do - either this stuff is safe or it's not," said Willowbrook Mayor Frank Trilla.

"Is it safe or not safe - that's not how we talk about carcinogens. We can't talk about carcinogens that way because none of them are safe at any level," said Susan Buchanan of the University of Illinois Chicago School of Public Health. "We talk about acceptable risk."

Residents unwilling to accept any risk dropped off a petition to Governor Rauner Friday.

Rauner has called for the Sterigenic's Willowbrook facility to pause operations until the U.S. EPA can bring some clarity to the health risks associated with the chemicals.

In a statement released Friday, Senator Tammy Duckworth criticized the Rauner administration's handling of the situation.

"Each day, it seems that the chemical and ethical clouds surrounding Sterigenics continue to grow darker, and in today's investigation showing that both the Trump and Rauner administrations sought to hide data that could save lives in and around Willowbrook is the most troubling we've seen yet. In light of similar behavior regarding the continuing Legionnaires' disease crisis that has taken the lives of least 14 of our state's heroes at Illinois Veterans Home Quincy, it's also becoming more and more apparent that the Rauner administration habitually puts public relations above the health and well-being of the people of Illinois. It's unacceptable and it's indefensible. Our constituents deserve more, and those still at risk in DuPage County deserve action," Duckworth said.
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