With Sterigenics under fire, chemical industry support of Republican Peter Roskam at issue in fiercely contested race

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Months before politicians saturated Chicago television stations with commercials, lobbyists for the nation’s chemical industry bought two weeks of local airtime thanking Republican Congressman Peter Roskam for championing their priorities.

The little-noticed $209,000 TV ad buy, financed in late June by the American Chemistry Council, focused on Roskam’s votes favoring tax and health care policies that benefit its corporate members. But the ad takes on new meaning now that the Sterigenics sterilization facility just outside Roskam’s west suburban district is under fire for emitting ethylene oxide, a highly potent, cancer-causing gas made by Dow Chemical, Union Carbide, Shell and several other members of the trade group.

Two months after the chemical industry’s pro-Roskam ad began airing, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a report revealing that communities surrounding the Sterigenics facility in Willowbrook are among just a few dozen in the country facing alarmingly high cancer risks from toxic air pollution, most notably ethylene oxide emissions.

The EPA report, known as the National Air Toxics Assessment, has prompted a storm of complaints from neighbors and officials from both political parties who are urging environmental regulators to shut down Sterigenics. Erin Brockovich, the prominent national environmental activist, encouraged Americans this week on Facebook to sign a “Stop Sterigenics” petition.

In addition to its pro-Roskam ad, the chemical industry has contributed $185,050 to the Republican incumbent’s campaign fund during the past decade, according to federal election data compiled by the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics. The oil and gas industry has given Roskam an additional $452,570, including $70,400 from Koch Industries, the privately held conglomerate owned by Charles and David Koch, top contributors to Republican causes and campaigns to roll back environmental regulations.

Casten contends the chemical industry’s support of Roskam, along with the congressman’s pro-industry voting record in Congress, shows he is beholden to Washington lobbyists and out of touch with his constituents in the 6th District.

6th District debate: Roskam, Casten clash over taxes, Trump »

Public outrage: After weeks of protests, EPA to test air in surrounding neighborhoods »

For instance, Casten noted, one of the Republican-authored bills Roskam supported last year would have neutered EPA advisory boards featuring academic scientists, similar to the panels convened during the past decade to evaluate the health dangers of ethylene oxide.

The bill would have made it easier for industry-sponsored scientists to serve on advisory panels while banning academic researchers whose work is funded by the EPA, one of the top sources of support for independent studies of toxic chemicals and other environmental health issues.

Another industry-backed bill Roskam supported would have prohibited the EPA from basing anti-pollution regulations on peer-reviewed studies unless all of the data is publicly available. The legislation would throw out public health studies that rely on private medical information — the foundation of several key regulations limiting exposure to air pollution and toxic chemicals.

“Peter Roskam is a rubber stamp for President Trump’s fact-free, science-denying administration and special interests, which is actively harming the health and well-being of his constituents,” Casten said last week during a news conference with a leader of the labor union for local EPA employees and a representative from the League of Conservation Voters’ political arm. He vowed to fight for more federal support of science if elected.

Roskam has a 7 percent rating on environment- and health-related congressional votes tracked by the league. While his lifetime score is the highest among Republicans in the Illinois delegation, it contrasts sharply with the 93 percent rating of Democratic Rep. Bill Foster, a scientist who represents a neighboring district that includes the Sterigenics facility in Willowbrook.

“I’ve always had a hard time understanding why members of Congress like to tell scientists how to conduct their research,” Foster has said of the industry-supported bills. “Scientists should set the standards for research. Not politicians.”

mhawthorne@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @scribeguy

MORE COVERAGE:

In about-face, Gov. Bruce Rauner calls for Sterigenics shutdown after weeks of downplaying cancer risks »

High cancer risk in southeast DuPage County linked to company co-owned by Rauner’s former firm »

Rauner EPA withholds Sterigenics records from attorney general until local Republicans intervene »

00-Pol RT,15-Health,16-Econ,17-Energy,19-Legal,26-Delivered

Region: Lake County,Courts,Region: Suburbs

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October 25, 2018 at 05:30AM

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