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Duckworth, Durbin ask Biden’s EPA to improve oversight of ethylene oxide probes

The senators are asking for fixes after a government report pointed to a Trump political appointee who suppressed an investigation of a cancer-causing gas.

EPA staff in Chicago were reportedly told to limit air monitoring around the now-closed Sterigenics medical sterilization plant in Willowbrook several years ago.
Capitol News Illinois

Senators Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin are asking the Environmental Protection Agency to fix the way the agency investigates and informs the public about harmful air emissions after an internal report last month found a Trump Administration political appointee suppressed an inquiry of cancer-causing gases in the Chicago area.

Last month, the agency’s inspector general reported that a senior political appointee in former President Donald Trump’s Administration suppressed attempts by Chicago-based EPA officials to investigate and remedy problems from area facilities that emit ethylene oxide. Senior officials told staff to limit air monitoring around the Sterigenics medical sterilization plant in Willowbrook and to hold off on sending requests for information to ethylene oxide facilities in the area, according to the report.

Trump appointees also withheld information almost three years ago when air monitors detected a potential threat to Willowbrook residents, the report said.

“EPA has a responsibility to ensure that all people across the United States have access to accurate information to effectively manage health and environmental risks, and that communities can meaningfully participate in decision-making processes that affect their lives,” the senators said in a letter Tuesday to President Joe Biden’s EPA Administrator Michael Regan.

Researchers have linked ethylene oxide to lymphoma and leukemia as well as breast and stomach cancers.

The two Illinois Democrats also want the EPA to report to Congress later this year on corrective actions taken by the agency to avoid future problems from political operatives.

“With a new Administration we have renewed hope that we can right these wrongs and will continue to work with EPA to ensure that protocols are in place so that this abuse of power never happens again,” the senators said.

In a statement, the EPA said it “looks forward to productive conversations with the Office of the Inspector General as we work to resolve this matter.”

Sterigenics closed its Willowbrook plant in 2019 but two other area businesses use ethylene oxide. Medline Industries in Waukegan sterilizes medical products with the gas, while Vantage Specialty Chemicals in Gurnee uses ethylene oxide to produce chemicals.

Brett Chase’s reporting on the environment and public health is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.