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Lawmakers Look To Further Regulate Ethylene Oxide Emissions

Several Illinois residents Wednesday urged state senators to ban the cancer-causing ethylene oxide used to sterilize medical instruments.

The Illinois legislature is considering whether to restrict the use of a cancer-causing gas, currently in use by several Chicago-area facilities.

Several Illinois residents Wednesday urged state senators to ban the cancer-causing ethylene oxide used to sterilize medical instruments. But first, Democratic state Sen. Melinda Bush of Grayslake wants to know how much emission levels have impacted communities in Cook and Lake counties

“What we need to get at-- is there a safe, acceptable level, what that is, and make sure that first of all, public safety is the priority," she said.

Some point to high emission levels from the Sterigenics plant in Willowbrook as a factor to cancer cases in the area. Sterigenics officials say they have been compliant with current regulations. Two other plants in Lake County have also recently come under scrutiny. 

Jeanne Hochhalter grew up in Burr Ridge, a town neighboring Willowbrook. She told lawmakers she believes the prolonged exposure to the carcinogen led to her double mastectomy. “There is no safe amount. People will come in here and tell you that there are safe amounts, that they are in compliance."

Hochhalter now lives in Naperville and first heard of the Willowbrook high emission levels in August. She has met with other community residents who have also been diagnosed with cancer. "The real harm from ethylene oxide comes from longterm, chronic exposure," said. 

Some industry experts said ethylene oxide is necessary to sterilize medical instruments. But several hospitals across the country have already implemented alternative, non-toxic methods. Lawmakers from both chambers have filed several proposals to address the issues and say they hope all stakeholders can agree to focus on a combined measure. 

Republican state Sen. John Curran of Woodridge sponsors one of those proposals. In his plan, the state would move toward phasing out the use of ethylene oxide by 2022.

“The village of Willowbrook and the surrounding communities have really become paralyzed in fear,” he said.

“This is a great public concern.” 

Curran said the Illinois Department of Public Health will conduct a cancer study of the area to be completed by early March. 

Daisy reported on statehouse issues for our Illinois Issues project. She's a Public Affairs Reporting program graduate from the University of Illinois Springfield. She also graduated from the Illinois Institute of Technology, and has an associates degrees from Truman College. Daisy is from Chicago where she attended Lane Tech High School.
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