WASHINGTON, D.C. — The ecological health concern of ethylene oxide — a known carcinogen — being released into the environment has entered the federal legislative spotlight due to the efforts of Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill.

In light of the recent legislation passed in Illinois to curb the use and exposure of ethylene oxide, the Illinois senators are urging federal regulators to intensify laws regarding the use and disposal of the chemical used in industrial sterilization. Durbin and Duckworth were joined by Illinois Democratic representatives Dan Lipinski, Bill Foster, Brad Schneider, Sean Casten and Lauren Underwood. The group sent a letter on Nov. 25 asking Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler to address the EPA’s recent actions on ethylene oxide emissions, stating they are not proactive enough. They have also asked the EPA to immediately inspect sterilization facilities around northern Illinois that use ethylene oxide in their processes.

“The EPA has taken some steps to address the public health risks associated with ethylene oxide, but it has a responsibility to do more to provide strict, protective standards for harmful chemicals emitted by industrial processes,” the members wrote. “The EPA is taking too long to move forward with new rules, ignoring many of our requested actions aimed at protecting communities.”

Durbin and Duckworth are claiming President Donald Trump’s EPA has actually instructed EPA civil servants in the Region 5 Chicagoland area to not inspect facilities that utilize ethylene oxide. This is why they have requested immediate inspections. The information that such instructions were being issued by the EPA go back to January of this year.

On the state level, a number of state representatives championed Illinois EPA regulation changes to curb the presence of ethylene oxide in the environment. Principal among the reps was House Republican Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs, whose constituents include those who may be affected by emissions from the Sterigenics industrial sterilization facility. The Sterigenics facility is in Willowbrook. Vantage Industries has a facility in Gurnee, and Medline has a facility in Waukegan. Area Republican representatives Norine Hammond of Macomb, C.D. Davidsmeyer of Jacksonville and Mike Unes of Peoria did not vote on Senate Bill 1854, which addressed emissions. Rep. Randy Frese of Quincy joined Durkin in supporting that bill. Hammond, Davidsmeyer and Unes did vote in favor of Senate Bill 1852 which addresses regulations regarding the permitting process through the state EPA for use of ethylene oxide.

According to Illinois EPA, ethylene oxide is a flammable, colorless gas produced to make products ranging from antifreeze to plastics, detergents and adhesives. It is also used, as it is at the above mentioned facilities, for sterilizing medical equipment containing plastic or electronic components that cannot otherwise be sterilized by steam or ultraviolet light. Ethylene oxide can also be used by ag workers to control insects in grain bins.

The Clean Air Act lists ethylene oxide as a hazardous air pollutant. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, exposure to it may cause: headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, breathing difficulty, drowsiness, weakness, exhaustion, eye and skin burns, frostbite, and reproductive effects. In certain amounts over an extended period of time it can also cause cancer.

Information regarding ethylene oxide and the ongoing review of the chemical by Illinois EPA can be found online at: https://bit.ly/2OFeXbf.

The letter sent by Durbin and Duckworth to the EPA can be read online at: https://bit.ly/380ENyn.

 

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