The EPA delayed notifying neighbors of an Illinois medical device sterilization plant of ethylene oxide (EtO) emissions the agency measured in 2018, according to an inspector general’s report released yesterday.
The report also says that “leadership” in the agency’s Office of Air and Radiation also failed to conduct public meetings with residents either near the Medline Industries EtO facility in Waukegan, Ill., or the Vantage EtO plant in Gurnee, Ill. All of the plants were located in EPA Region 5.
“According to two Region 5 managers, a then-senior leader in the Office of Air and Radiation, who was a political appointee, instructed Region 5 to not conduct inspections at ethylene oxide-emitting facilities unless invited by the state to conduct a joint inspection. Region 6 managers and inspectors stated that they did not receive such policy instructions. Office of Air and Radiation senior leaders also issued additional instructions that hindered Region 5’s ability to effectively address ethylene oxide emissions, according to Region 5 personnel,” the inspector general’s report says.
These actions run counter to the EPA’s mission statement and risk communication guidance, which say that communities should have accurate information to participate in decision-making processes, it adds.
The EPA considers ethylene oxide a carcinogen, and EtO emissions have attracted national scrutiny since Illinois state officials closed the Sterigenics Willowbrook plant in February 2019.
The EPA’s inspector general in March 2020 recommended opening a channel of communication between government officials and people who live near 25 plants that use ethylene oxide, including eight used for sterilizing medical devices. Then-EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler objected, publicly indicating that his office was blindsided by the request. Wheeler added at the time that the EPA had been in regular contact with communities and stakeholders potentially affected by ethylene oxide emissions.
You can read the entire report here.