EPA: Residents within 1.5 miles of Willowbrook Sterigenics plant had up to 10 times higher risk of cancer

Eric Horng Image
Thursday, May 30, 2019
EPA: Residents within a mile of Sterigenics plant had up to 10x higher risk of cancer
The Environmental Protection Agency concluded that people living within a mile of the Willowbrook Sterigenics plant were in danger, and had a cancer risk up to 10 times higher than

BURR RIDGE, Ill. (WLS) -- After months of study, the Environmental Protection Agency concluded that people living within a mile and a half of the Willowbrook Sterigenics plant were in danger, and had a cancer risk up to 10 times higher than normal.

"We are here with the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, to protect us," said Burr Ridge Mayor Gary Grasso.

A meeting held Wednesday night in Burr Ridge came three months after Sterigenics in Willowbrook was effectively shut down by the Illinois EPA over its emissions of the carcinogenic chemical ethylene oxide.

The federal EPA concluded that before the plant stopped operating, cancer risks from long term exposure were 10 times higher than what the EPA deems acceptable.

Click here to read the full EPA assessment summary

The area of greatest risk was within one-third of a mile from the facility, but there was still an elevated risk for residents one and a half miles away.

"We would conclude that additional emissions reductions are necessary to reduce that level of risk," said Bill Wehrum, U.S. EPA.

Sterigenics said, "Ethylene oxide is...emitted from many common sources" including "vehicle emissions...propane grills, wood-burning stoves, natural gas furnaces, and gasoline-powered lawn mower engines."

Click here to read the full letter from Sterigenics to the EPA

The company then proposed reopening, with tougher regulations. The EPA said it is possible for them to reopen with stricter pollution controls.

"From our perspective, the answer is yes," Wehrum said.

But some disagreed.

"We are here to ensure that they get shut down permanently, and they can never do this again to another community," said Neringa Zymancius, Stop Sterigenics.

Sterigenics has gone to court to try to reopen. In the meantime, the Illinois General Assembly is working to pass a bill that would toughen regulations for companies using ethylene oxide.

Previous coverage:

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