The US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued its comprehensive audit today of actions by EPA Region 5 to address ethylene oxide emissions at the Sterigenics plant in Willowbrook. The OIG report found that the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation (OAR) delayed communicating known health risks to community members in and around the facility. In response to the issuance of the report, State Senator John Curran (R-Downers Grove) issued the following statement:
“While the findings in this audit should come as no surprise to those of us who fought the Sterigenics battle in 2018, they are nonetheless alarming. The US EPA’s own mission and risk communication principles stress the importance of communicating accurate health and environmental risks to the public and involving them as legitimate partners. The US EPA and OAR failed at every turn, and instead placed thousands of area residents in danger.
“The report tells us the Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air Radiation at the time directed the Region 5 Regional Administrator not to conduct inspections at ethylene oxide facilities unless invited by the state, and when monitoring data was eventually gathered, not to release the results to the public. It’s unconscionable that even after officials finally had ethylene oxide emissions data in hand, a deliberate decision was made not to disclose this information. The OIG should refer this report to the US Attorney’s office for a complete criminal investigation. Thousands of lives continued to be placed at elevated risk by the OAR’s deliberate deception.
“This audit, conducted between March of 2019 and February of 2021, details a complete lack of policy requirements and protocols that help ensure the public is notified in a timely manner when a potential health risk is identified at an ethylene-oxide emitting facility. The people of Willowbrook should have been able to rely on the US EPA and Sterigenics to be good community partners and forthright with critical health-related information. Instead, the US EPA’s gross negligence and ultimate disregard for sharing critical information was a direct attempt to cover up this environmental disaster.”