In a blockbuster story, the Chicago Tribune reported that the Trump administration’s EPA helped Bruce Rauner, the Republican Governor of Illinois, cover-up the extreme cancer risks posed to the communities around a medical devices plant of a company partly owned by the Illinois Governor:
Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration knew in December that toxic air pollution from the Sterigenics plant in west suburban Willowbrook likely was responsible for some of the highest cancer risks in the nation, according to a letter obtained by the Tribune.
The governor’s office and the Rauner-led Illinois Environmental Protection Agency kept the politically explosive information from the public for eight months, then initially downplayed the dangers posed by a company owned in part by the incumbent Republican’s former private equity firm.
Federal officials say the company released uncontrolled amounts of ethylene oxide from building vents for more than 30 years. In 2016, after a decade-long review of peer-reviewed scientific studies, the EPA declared the volatile chemical poses long-term cancer risks at extremely low levels.
About 19,000 people live within a mile of the Willowbrook facility. Four schools and a day care center also are close by, including Hinsdale South High School in Darien and Gower Middle School in Burr Ridge.
Gabriela Tejeda-Rios, a lawyer who has lived a half block from Sterigenics for nine years, said she has read studies suggesting a link between exposure to ethylene oxide and the type of chronic headaches her two daughters, ages 9 and 11, have suffered since their early days in public schools that also are close to the facility.
“Every single symptom my family and I have experienced in the past number of years has been associated with ethylene oxide,” Tejeda-Rios said, referring to websites created by federal and state officials that note children are particularly at risk. “I live in constant fear and worry and guilt. My children have been exposed to this 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and I cannot protect them from it.”
“This is not an emergency,” Rauner told reporters following an unrelated Aug. 28 event. “My understanding is that particular company has followed all the regulations and the proper procedures.”
Rauner appointees later refused to provide key documents about the Willowbrook facility to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, required the state’s chief lawyer to request the records under the Freedom of Information Act and delayed providing the information until after the Tribune inquired about the dispute on Sept. 20
If this kind of cover-up sounds familiar, it is because similar cover-ups have happened very recently by Republican Governors who have run on a philosophy of always putting corporations before people, and cutting taxes and regulations, leading inevitably to pollution problems.
In Michigan, the seriousness of the lead in Flint’s water supply was intentionally covered up for months:
Research by the ACLU and Michigan Radio, meanwhile, seems to show that the state’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) rigged water test results in the summer of 2015—when many reports about problems with Flint’s water had already been published—to hide evidence of abnormally high lead levels. Both the ACLU and Michigan Radio cite the work of Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech engineering professor who has studied the situation in Flint closely. Per Edwards, Flint city officials broke federal laws by failing to collect water samples from homes that were at the highest risk of lead contaminiation and failed to conduct followup tests as required on homes whose samples showed high levels. And the state DEQ officials who were supervising the city’s collection process and testing the samples, Edwards says, made a very unusual move to reject two samples collected by the city—samples that, as it happens, would have pushed the test results above a level at which the city was required to alert residents about contamination. Moreover, the state DEQ notified the city on June 25, 2015—before the city had collected all its samples—that tests on the samples that had been collected appeared to show irregularly high lead levels. After this warning, the city collected another 30 samples. According to the ACLU and Edwards, none of these 30 samples collected after the warning showed irregularly high lead levels. Quite a coincidence!
In Kansas, officials failed to tell residents of contaminated water for years:
Kansas officials allowed hundreds of residents in two neighborhoods to drink contaminated water for years without telling them.
The Wichita Eagle reports that the state discovered dry cleaning chemicals had contaminated groundwater at a Haysville laundromat in 2011. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment didn’t act for more than six years.
The state didn’t test private wells less than a mile away, nor did it notify residents that their drinking wells could be contaminated so they could test the water themselves.
Public safety is simply not a top priority for Republican politicians, because they value corporations over people, and their unending pursuit of cutting taxes and regulations inevitably leads to dangerous pollution. These Republican politicians are so invested in their policies that put corporations over people, they then choose to cover up any wrongdoing, rather than admit something might have gone wrong.