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EPA Sets the Record Straight After Being Misrepresented in Press

Contact Information: 
EPA Press Office ( )

WASHINGTON – Recent media reports have inaccurately misrepresented the actions taken by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to address ethylene oxide (EtO) emissions at the Sterigenics facility in Willowbrook, Illinois. When informed in June 2018 of Region 5’s monitoring results, EPA leadership acted decisively, working with state and local governments and others to lower EtO emissions at the facility and communicate risk to the public in a responsible way. Actions taken by EPA leadership include:

  • Completed the process to quality assure and provide EPA regions and state coregulators the chance to review the draft National Air Toxics Assessment (NATA), a screening tool that highlights pollutants and emissions sources to study further in order to understand the risk to public health. Based on preliminary data from NATA, EPA regional offices collected additional information to verify initial estimates. (Late 2017 – August 2018)
  • Provided technical assistance to contextualize and communicate results of monitoring and modeling conducted by EPA Region 5 around the facility. (June – October 2018)
  • Reviewed and approved construction permit application for Sterigenics to install additional pollution controls and protocol for additional stack testing to evaluate pollution control improvements. (June – September 2018)
  • Released the most recent update to the National Air Toxics Assessment (NATA), which uses emissions data from the most recent National Emissions Inventory to estimate health risks from toxic air pollutants. The updated NATA estimates that ethylene oxide significantly contributes to potential elevated cancer risks, based on chronic, lifetime exposure, in some census tracts across the U.S., and these elevated risks are largely driven by an EPA risk value that was updated in late 2016. EPA offices reached out to state, local, and federal officials to notify them of results. (August 2018)
  • Continues to update the ethylene oxide website information, including FAQs for Willowbrook and that outlines the two-pronged strategy for addressing EtO: 1) to review regulations for facilities that emit EtO, including the emission standards for commercial sterilizers (the rule that covers the Sterigenics facility in Willowbrook), and 2) to get additional information on EtO emissions to determine whether additional reductions are necessary. (August 2018 – present)
  • Observed stack tests conducted to measure the actual emissions from control devices at the facility. (September 2018)
  • Received initial stack test results from Sterigenics, indicating a control efficiency above 99 percent. (September 2018)
  • Sent a detailed letter from EPA’s Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation, Bill Wehrum, to top elected leadership in Illinois outlining these actions and detailing plans to conduct additional air quality monitoring and risk assessment. (September 2018)
  • Held an in-person meeting at EPA’s Chicago office with elected officials and their staff to provide an update on these efforts. (September 2018)
  • Received and are reviewing the final, full report from the stack tests conducted on September 20 and 21. The agency will use information from the stack test reports to estimate current emissions from the Sterigenics facility and to inform additional risk assessment and ambient air monitoring work. (October 2018)
  • Intends to conduct and communicate air quality monitoring and additional risk assessment activity around the facility. EPA is also engaging elected officials and community leaders to hold an additional public meeting in late November. (November 2018)