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Cancer risk in Willowbrook?

Updated: Dec 13, 2018

This fall, members of the Willowbrook, Darien, and Burr Ridge area found out they may be at heightened risk for cancer due to emissions of ethylene oxide from a local company, Sterigenics. The risk was initially outlined in The National Air Toxics Assessment (NATA), which is based on information from 2014, but was just published in 2018. This assessment details EPA's ongoing review of air pollutants known to cause or suspected of causing cancer or other serious health effects (also known as toxic air pollutants or hazardous air pollutants) in the United States. NATA gives a snapshot of outdoor air quality with respect to emissions released into the air. The map can be refined to demonstrate modeled emissions of specific harmful toxins, and resulting in specific risk profiles based on those toxins. The map is available here. You can enter your address and discover if you are in a "risk zone."

Cancer Risk by Census Tract, image by Richard Morton

The NATA map only provides detailed risk information one census tract at a time. Community member, Richard Morton, compiled the composite image above, which overlays all the impacted census tracts around Sterigenics in Willowbrook Illinois. Cancer risk due to ethylene oxide exposure is broken down by census tract and presented as the number of cancers specific to your location in a million. Anyone that lives around that facility can locate his or her home and the cancer risk NATA has assigned to that tract.

You may have heard recent news stories regarding the EPA's findings. This is in regard to follow-up testing after the NATA map highlighted the heightened risk for the area. The EPA announced they, "discovered an issue with the way ethylene oxide has been measured. As a result of the issue, monitors may have reported higher ambient levels of ethylene oxide than actually exist." There have been false media reports of an "all clear." The EPA did not state there is no longer a concern about the levels of ethylene oxide present in Willowbrook due to Sterigenic's emission. In fact they stated, "U.S. EPA would have been concerned about ethylene oxide in Willowbrook, even without air quality monitoring. U.S. EPA’s NATA identified census tracts in the Willowbrook area as a potentially higher risk community. NATA is based on air quality modeling: it does not rely on any air monitoring data (1).” At last week's forum, Bill Wehrum also stated that ethylene oxide is 60 times more potent than once known (including the information documented from 2014 by NATA).

While we wait for more studies to be done by the EPA and Illinois Department of Health, we are not comforted by analysis of available data which seems to point to an increased cancer rate for residents surrounding Sterigenics as opposed to the rest of Illinois. Information from the Illinois Department of Public Health from 2001-2015 includes cancer data based on zip code. Analysis of these numbers demonstrate that zip codes closest to Sterigenics and ethylene oxide emitting sources in McCook are linked to increased cancer rates. Please read further explanation of this information by Richard Morton here.

Image by Richard Morton

In another study, Athanasios Stamatoukos concluded his findings, "prove that the area around the Sterigenics plants in Willowbrook have a higher cancer rate than the rest of the state of Illinois. Due to the high amounts of EtO emitted from the plants, it is likely that these higher rates could be linked to the presence of Sterigenics in the community." You can read his full report here.


1. Environmental Protection Agency. Sterigenics Willowbrook Facility - Latest Update, Update November 21, 2018.

2. Morton, Richard. Elevated Cancers in Willowbrook and Surrounding Towns.. Retrieved from:

3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. (2018, August 21). Evaluation of Potential Health Impacts from Ethylene Oxide Emissions, Sterigenics International, INC. Willowbrook, Illinois.  Retrieved from:

4. California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board. Research Note 93-6: Topic = Ethylene oxide in the atmosphere. Retrieved from:

5. 2014 National Air Toxics Assessment. Retrieved from:

6. Stamatoukos, A. (2018). “Illinois Cancer Data Analysis.” Retrieved from, October 2018.


This blog post is a representation of the author's opinion. Blog posts are intended for informational purposes only and not indented to provide medical or legal advice. Individual authorship may not represent all opinions of the Stop Sterigenics community.

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