Sterigenics controvery 'nonsense,' says chemist
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has been calm during the ongoing Sterigenics ethylene-oxide-emissions controversy, the national EPA not so much and the residents of Willowbrook should breathe easy, an air quality specialist said during a recent radio interview.
"The air they're breathing is fine," chemist Richard J. Trzupek said during the Nov. 30 edition of Chicago's Morning Answer. "I don't know how the U.S. EPA walks this back, but I am very proud, though, of Illinois EPA—even though I'm always on the opposite side of the desk from them—that they have refused to give in to the hysteria. Illinois EPA has stood firm. They have refused to refer this to the attorney general. They know this is nonsense. How the U.S. EPA fixes this? I don't know how they'll do it."
Trzupek, an environmental adviser to The Heartland Institute, has been an air-quality specialist and environmental consultant in the industry for more than 25 years.
Trzupek said during the radio interview that it is not clear to him how the U.S. EPA came to settle on emissions values in Willowbrook.
"It isn't so much that they chose it so much as they got so much press," Trzupek said. "So my question is, 'Why did this particular survey out of the hundreds and thousands of surveys that EPA did strike such attention?'"
The current controversy began in early October, when the Illinois EPA issued an announcement in which it called upon the state Attorney General to temporarily shut down Sterigenics US. The agency sought an order enjoining Sterigenics from operations that resulted in emissions after finding the chemical plants on Quincy Street and Midway in Willowbrook had been releasing illegal amounts of cancer-causing ethylene oxide into the air.
Sterigenics uses ethylene oxide to sterilize medical equipment.
The IEPA's announcement came weeks after release of a federal report from a national air toxins assessment that revealed long-term ethylene oxide exposure carries a serious cancer risk and that Sterigenics' Willowbrook operation was emitting the chemical at "elevated levels."
The report looked at air toxins from hundreds of chemicals, including ethylene oxide, Trzupek said during his Nov. 30 radio interview.
"One of the things they specifically say in the National Air Toxins Assessment is do not use this 'to pinpoint specific risk values in small areas such [as] a census tract,'" Trzupek said, quoting the U.S. EPA's website.
"So this is all nonsense," Trzupek continued. "It's picking on one particular air toxin when it's part of an assessment of hundreds of air toxins."
Amid the storm of controversy that erupted following the IEPA's announcement, Illinois Republican House Leader Jim Durkin called introduced House Bill 5952 to require high ethylene oxide emitters to cease operations. In September, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency agreed to conduct a follow-up ambient-air-quality study in Sterigenics-area neighborhoods.
Last month, the IEPA issued another statement, announcing a coordinated effort to identify private drinking-water wells servicing homes near the Sterigenics Willowbrook operation.
Last week, hundreds of Willowbrook residents gathered to demand answers and Sterigenics' immediate closure as tensions are rising in Gurnee and Waukegan, where similar ethylene oxide emissions are coming to light. Sterigenics also released a two-page statement to Willowbrook residents, saying the residents have been failed by the allowance made for "flawed data measured against an illogical standard to be accepted as fact."
"The real travesty has been the needless fear and worry about safety that good people of Willowbrook have had to wrongly endure," the Sterigenics statement said.
The home-grown activist group Stop Sterigenics reportedly is planning a protest scheduled to begin at noon Dec. 15 at Sterigenics headquarters in Oak Brook.
Trzupek said he hoped Sterigenics' Willowbrook operation is not shut down, because the plant is doing its job responsibly.
"I have no ties to them," he said. "I really hope it doesn't come to that."
Organizations in this Story
Chicago's Morning Answer • City of Willowbrook • Illinois House of Representatives • State of Illinois Epa • Sterigenics International • Sterigenics Willowbrook • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)