Scientist paid by chemical industry says cancer hot spot not linked to suburban plant

A scientist testifying for the chemical industry Wednesday urged state lawmakers not to ban the emission of a toxic chemical spewing from the Sterigenics plant in the western suburbs.

This comes as cancer victims call on the government to shut down the facility.

“He has leukemia, lived in the area for a long time. This poor lady lived in the area for a long time. She has cancer,” said Jeanne Hochhalter, who had breast cancer.

Urging a state senate environmental committee to ban companies from emitting any trace of ethylene oxide into the air, Hochhalter blamed it for the breast cancer she found seven years ago.

“There was no reason for me to have breast cancer. I did, however, breath in the toxic emissions of ethylene oxide which Sterigenics had willfully and is still spewing out into our community,” she said.

Thousands who live or grew up near a Sterigenics plant in Willowbrook are now demanding action from state and federal regulators.

But a scientist hired by Medline, another local company that uses ethylene oxide, says the chemical is not the cause of Willowbrook's notorious cancer hot spot. She ridiculed an EPA suggestion that even one-tenth of one part per trillion of ethylene oxide is dangerous.

“The level of ethylene oxide in the ambient air naturally produced by the human body and the levels exhaled in human breath are hundreds, if not thousands of times greater, posing a risk to humans,” said Jane Teta, occupational epidemiologist.

An EPA website warns long-term exposure to ethylene oxide is linked to cancers including Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, Myeloma, Leukemia and breast cancer.

As lawmakers weigh arguments on both sides, any action will likely wait until after the new year.