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Concerns about ethylene oxide exposure are overblown

Sterigenics

The Sterigenics plant in Willowbrook. | Google Maps

The issue of ethylene oxide — a chemical used to sterilize medical equipment and produce everyday products used in your home or vehicle — has two sides.

Overlooked by news reports is this: How did the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reach an implausible risk level for human exposure to EO?

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Most human exposure to EO is from vehicle exhaust, cigarette smoke, cooking oils and plant decay. How did the U.S. EPA set a risk level for EO of 1 part per 10 trillion, or one raindrop in 160 Olympic-size swimming pools?

The U.S. EPA’s exposure level is 1,600 times lower than EO exposure from plant decay, 19,000 times lower than the EO the human body produces each day, 188,000 times lower than EO exposure from smoking cigarettes and 250 million times lower than EO exposure from cooking oils heated to 300 degrees.

The U.S. EPA would have you believe everyday living would cause cancer. Perhaps this is why the National Academy of Sciences has questioned the U.S. EPA’s process for assessing the safety of chemicals.

Moreover, when sampling air around Willowbrook, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry admitted it threw out 21 of 39 samples due to low readings, essentially cherry-picking data.

The U.S. EPA did no sampling elsewhere in the Chicago area to compare background levels of EO. Since Willowbrook is sandwiched between I-55 and I-294 — known for constant traffic backups — wouldn’t it have made scientific sense to sample other locations with high concentrations of motor vehicle exhaust?

The ATSDR married its cherry-picked EO readings to the U.S. EPA’s flawed EO exposure limits — along with an unrealistic assumption that a person would never leave home for 33 years. Doing so stigmatized the Village of Willowbrook, needlessly frightened its citizens, put employees’ jobs in jeopardy and blackballed a facility known for sterilizing a significant portion of the medical equipment used in the Chicago area. It’s regulator malpractice.

Mark Biel, CEO, Chemical Industry Council of Illinois
Mark Denzler, VP/COO, Illinois Manufacturers’ Association

Where’s the parking?

I wholeheartedly agree with the expansion and enhancement of the CTA. However, making it nearly impossible to park near L stations due to permit parking is sabotaging this effort. The city is NOT encouraging our suburban friends and city dwellers alike to use the system by thwarting their ability to GET to the stations. This permit parking on public streets is ruining this city. Public roadways are for all to use and park, not just homeowners who want an open space in front of their house.

Dawn Hynes, Chicago