Highest levels of cancer-causing gas found in communities near Sterigenics since U.S. EPA began testing

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During the month before Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration shuttered Sterigenics in Willowbrook, air monitors recorded the highest levels of ethylene oxide in nearby residential neighborhoods since federal inspectors began testing for the cancer-causing gas, according to documents released Thursday.

Charts and slides posted online by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency show average daily concentrations of the chemical varied widely on the eight days sampled between Jan. 22 and Feb. 11. Similar to earlier results, high levels were detected when prevailing winds blew from Sterigenics toward a specific monitor, while the amounts measured upwind of the facility during the same day were significantly lower, the slides show.

Answering questions from residents during an online seminar, a top EPA official said what stood out for him were the highest concentrations detected to date in residential areas and at Hinsdale South High School. But the agency again stopped short of making any conclusions about its findings, promising more answers during the spring after completing a more detailed evaluation of cancer risks in Willowbrook and surrounding suburbs.

“We continue to believe the facility is responsible for a significant amount of ethylene oxide in the area,” Mike Koerber, associate director for policy at the EPA’s Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards, said during the seminar.