CHICAGO (CBS) — More are calling for action and a criminal probe at Sterigenics in Willowbrook after a report by 2 Investigator Dave Savini revealed serious allegations from former workers about toxic emissions being released into the community.
From a day care operator to cancer victims and other fearful residents, those fighting to end ehtylene oxide emissions feel they are one step closer in their fight as members of Congress call for a criminal probe into Sterigenics.
“We have kids breathing this stuff all the time,” said resident Heather Conroy.
The Willowbrook-based operation, which uses the toxic gas to sterilize medical equipment, is now feeling the heat from Washington.
“This is music to me ears,” said resident Cathleen O’Hare.
A group of U.S. senators and representatives Wednesday called for the EPA to “open a criminal investigation into allegations of misconduct raised by former employees against senior management at Sterigenics” after two former employees spoke exclusively to the CBS 2 Investigators about warning alarms being rigged allowing excessive ethylene oxide in the facility.
“It’s hard because I worked there,” one former employee said. “It’s hard to sleep at night.”
“Those who weren’t using a mask would have to evacuate the area. However, it happened so many times you would just blow it off, be like, ‘Just leave the doors open. It will clear out.” another employee said.
And that ethylene oxide was released without being filtered along with its residue, power washed into the environment.
“They would have us hose it down, scrub it out and then squeegee it right into the drainage pits,” an employee said.
He said it was just washed into the public sewer system.
On the U.S. Senate floor Tuesday, Sen. Dick Durbin expressed his concern about what these workers exposed to CBS 2 Investigators.
“Without Dave Savini’s report I think we’d still be spinning our wheels,” Conroy said.
Lawmakers want the EPA to investigate whether Sterigenics committed any registration violations, which could result in criminal fines.
In a statement, the U.S. EPA said it is “evaluating all federal Clean Air Act regulatory options available to address emissions form the Stergenics Willowbrook facility.”
Jana Conev lives and runs a daycare seven blocks from the company. In 2015 she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I was sicker and sicker and sicker,” she said. “Out of my four neighbors directly across the street, four households, three of them have breast cancer. That’s not a coincidence.”
Her husband has prostate and bladder cancer. They believe ethylene oxide is to blame.
“I want them to unplug, shut down, so they can’t do harm anymore,” Conev said.
Lawmakers also want the EPA to immediately update ethylene oxide safety standards, audit Sterigenics emissions and continue air monitoring longer than the current three month plan.
Sterigenics denies all claims made by the former workers.