CHICAGO (CBS) — There are serious health concerns in suburban Willowbrook following a new federal report revealing the emissions released by a medical device sterilization company could be harmful.

The author of the study is backtracking Wednesday. A lot of questions and frustration has surfaced as residents demand to know if they are at risk for cancer or other illnesses, as well as who knew about the toxic emissions and for how long.

“It’s a little scary at our age, you know,” said Kenneth Temen, a Willowbrook resident concerned for his health. He has lived in Willowbrook for 20 years. His home is just blocks away from Sterigenics, a company that sterilizes medical and other equipment, using a known carcinogen, ethylene oxide. In 2016, the EPA increased its associated cancer risk.

“It’s a simple question: Are we safe?” asked Mayor Frank Trilla. “We don’t have a lot of those long-term answers. The short-term answer is that we’re safe.”

Trilla’s office sits directly across from Sterigenics. He says he is probing into a newly released federal report, which tested the air surrounding the plant. The findings have been referred to as a public health hazard.

Wednesday night, the agency that wrote the report used more delicate language, clarifying its original findings before a board from EPA, staff from Sterigenics, and a room full of residents fearing for their health.

“Even though the risk was something we thought was something actionable, it was not one that indicated an immediate health threat,” said Dr. Mark Johnson of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

Originally there was no public comment, but the residents of Willowbrook changed that, demanding to know if they are at risk.

“What is immediate danger? Is this equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day? Is it equivalent to living in a basement with radon?” questioned resident Sue Kamuda.

“There’s a very easy way to fix all of this. You shut them down immediately and get them out of our town. We don’t want you here anymore,” another resident said.

The Illinois EPA Director, Alec Messina, stated, “They are in compliance with all the federal regulations, including the emissions standards for ethylene oxide.”

“We, too, were surprised with the results and are trying to work with the agencies to address these issues,” stated Kathy Hoffman of Sterigenics INTL.

Governor Bruce Rauner has former business ties to the company and was adamant in saying the emissions are not a public health hazard.

The company says they plan on cooperating with future testing.


Study: Illinois Community Faces High Cancer Risks