"You can make it up;" Sterigenics scare stems from two suspect EPA studies
Federal agencies relied on faulty, even completely unreliable, air quality figures to target the Sterigenics plant in Willowbrook as a regional health threat, air quality and "junk science" experts say.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) relied on two studies to conclude that the Ethylene Oxide (EO) emissions from the plant have been dangerously high. EO is used to sterilize medical supplies and equipment used in surgeries.
After publishing it in late Aug., last week the EPA discredited its own sampling data in the one study.
And the other study, which relies on "modeling" of data from U.S. census surveys of business activity in the area, is not an estimate but more of a “guesstimate” of concentrations of potentially harmful gases in the air, says Steve Milloy, publisher of Junkscience.com.
“Using a model gives them the leeway to present worst case scenarios,” Milloy told DuPage Policy Journal. “It’s easy to defend because it’s not based on actual sample data. You can make it up.”
The EPA did defend their studies Tuesday, as critics charged they made them up.
"U.S. EPA posted information about a potential issue with the way ethylene oxide has been measured in order to be transparent with the public about what the Agency has learned as it works to improve the monitoring method for this chemical," it said. "Despite this issue, EPA remains concerned about ethylene oxide in Willowbrook and is committed to continuing its work to assess current risk from ethylene oxide in the area."
But Rich Trzupek, a chemist, environmental consultant, and analyst at the Heartland Institute, said that the EPA has already admitted that those risks to residents are non-existent.
"The supposed cancer risk presented by the reported ethylene oxide concentrations [now known to be faulty] would apply only if a resident basically stood in the same spot at which the sample was taken and remained frozen there for 33 years," he said.
"Garbage in, garbage out"
The EPA has also now acknowledged that it never had any actual evidence that Sterigenics' emissions were in violation of the Clean Air Act before it decided to target the company. Rather, it said its highly-public investigation, started in the agency's Region 5 Chicago Office, was based on something of a hunch.
“The Agency’s (2014) National Air Toxics Assessment (NATA) identified census tracts in the Willowbrook area as a potentially higher risk community,” the statement said. “NATA is based on air quality modeling – it does not rely on any air monitoring data.”
"Census tracts" are small subdivisions, typically with between 1,200 and 8,000 people, used by the federal government to compare and contrast communities.
Census tract 8459.02 includes parts of Burr Ridge and Willowbrook, split down the middle by Interstate 55. Sterigenics is part of a large industrial park bordered by the expressway and Route 83.
The EPA's Chicago-based officials surmised that, because of the types of companies based there, Census Tract 8459.02 would have dangerous emissions.
Trzupek, says that modeling typically results in “vastly overestimating emission levels.”
“It’s a case of garbage in, garbage out,” he said. “I can construct a model that show emissions from your fireplace are harmful to your neighbor. It’s horrible science.”
He added that “hundreds of plants in the United States use EO. So why are they picking on this one?”
One explanation: Sterigenics happens to be the only such facility in Illinois partially-owned by an investment firm connected to Governor Bruce Rauner.
Reports of the emissions have caused a near panic in the Willowbrook area since they were published in late summer. Democratic candidates in the area used the reports, and the public scare, to hammer away at their Republican opponents they continue to blame for causing cancer.