Press Releases

Carper, Duckworth, Durbin Demand Information on EPA’s Handling of Ethylene Oxide Science Review, Sterigenics Emissions Release Oversight

Democrats ask EPA for information regarding senior political appointees’ involvement in challenging science, planning and performing facility inspections

Mar 27 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senators Tom Carper (D-Del.), top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler seeking information related to the agency’s recent decision to question EPA career staff’s assessment of the health risks and political appointees’ handling of potentially illegal releases of ethylene oxide (EtO), a chemical identified by EPA as a carcinogen. In the letter, the senators request documents shedding light on the Trump EPA’s enforcement efforts at the Sterigenics Illinois plant and its management of risks posed by EtO at facilities nationwide.  The senators also request all documents related to EPA’s decision to request comments on and potentially re-assess EPA’s 2016 conclusion that the chemical is carcinogenic, a topic that is likely to be raised at today’s EPA public hearing.   

“Recent newspaper reports document the potential for higher cancer rates coincident with higher detected levels of EtO near the Sterigenics facility in Illinois,” the senators write. “These reports further express concern that EPA political officials may have directed EPA career staff to cease inspecting facilities using the chemical and refused to take immediate action.  These news stories, and the resulting lack of public confidence in EPA’s enforcement efforts, led the Governor of Illinois to direct the owner of the facility to cease using EtO last month. EPA concluded in 2016 that its ‘confidence in the hazard characterization of EtO as “carcinogenic to humans” is high.’ EPA now appears to be entertaining the American Chemistry Council’s September, 2018 request to re-assess this conclusion, and the agency has formally requested public comment on whether EPA’s 2016 conclusion is accurate in a recent regulatory proceeding.”

In January, Senator Duckworth’s staff received information alleging that senior political appointees at EPA instructed career officials to avoid conducting inspections of facilities that emit EtO. Senators Carper, Duckworth and Durbin requested an EPA Inspector General investigation into these allegations.

The full text of the letter is below, and the PDF can be found HERE.

 

March 27, 2019

 

The Honorable Andrew Wheeler

Administrator

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

1301 Constitution Ave. NW

Washington, DC 20460

 

Dear Administrator Wheeler:

We write to request information related to the EPA’s efforts to assess the health risks and investigate potentially illegal releases of ethylene oxide (EtO) in Illinois. EtO is a chemical used to sterilize medical equipment and other products, that EPA has also concluded is carcinogenic.[1] 

Recent newspaper reports[2] document the potential for higher cancer rates coincident with higher detected levels of EtO near the Sterigenics facility in Illinois.  These reports further express concern[3] that EPA political officials may have directed EPA career staff to cease inspecting facilities using the chemical and refused[4] to take immediate action. These news stories, and the resulting lack of public confidence in EPA’s enforcement efforts, led the Governor of Illinois to direct the owner of the facility to cease using EtO last month.

EPA concluded in 2016[5] that its “confidence in the hazard characterization of EtO as ‘carcinogenic to humans’ is high.” EPA now appears to be entertaining the American Chemistry Council’s September, 2018 request[6] to re-assess this conclusion, and the agency has formally requested public comment on whether EPA’s 2016 conclusion is accurate in a recent regulatory proceeding.[7]

So that we can better understand the role of EPA political officials in examining EPA’s 2016 conclusion about the health risks associated with EtO or directing enforcement efforts at the Sterigenics or at any other facility that uses the chemical, please provide the following materials no later than April 18th, 2019:

  1. All documents (including comments, notes, emails, legal and other memoranda, white papers, scientific references, letters, telephone logs, text messages, meeting minutes and calendars, photographs, slides and presentations) prepared for,  obtained by, or regarding, EPA political officials’ involvement in enforcement activities at Sterigenics or any other facility that uses EtO, since January 21, 2017.
  2. All documents (including comments, notes, emails, legal and other memoranda, white papers, scientific references, letters, telephone logs, text messages, meeting minutes and calendars, photographs, slides and presentations) prepared for,  obtained by, or regarding, EPA political officials’ involvement in deciding whether and how to amend EPA’s 2016 hazard assessment for EtO, since January 21, 2017.
  3. Copies of each request for information sent by EPA to Sterigenics under Section 114 of the Clean Air Act since January 21, 2017, and all of Sterigenics’ responses thereto. 

Thank you very much for your attention to this important matter.

 

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