IDPH 125th


As the result of an investigation into asbestos contamination at an Illinois food processing plant in 1998, more than 1 million individual snack items – Twinkies, Hostess HoHos. Hostess Cupcakes, Dolly Madison Cupcakes and Hostess Fruit Pies, to name a few – were voluntarily recalled from store shelves in 21 states.

The probe was launched by the Department’s West Chicago regional staff after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency received a complaint about improper asbestos removal at the Interstate Brands Corp. Schiller Park plant. Inspectors found asbestos-containing debris in the boiler room and evidence of asbestos contamination in other parts of the plant, including the production lines.

IDPH and Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) worked with company officials to discontinue production at the facility, encourage a product recall and initiate a cleanup of the plant.

After the company agreed to a voluntary recall, the Department issued a news release warning consumers in Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin not to eat numerous products made at the Illinois plant.

All food manufactured at the plant during a 15-day period after the asbestos was ripped out of the boiler room by Interstate Brand employees was considered contaminated. The employees were not properly licensed or accredited to remove asbestos and did not follow prescribed emission control or disposal procedures to prevent the spread of asbestos fibers. Once pulled down, the asbestos was carted through the production facility and discarded in an outside dumpster.

Not much is known about the health risk of ingesting food contaminated with asbestos, but some studies have linked repeated consumption to cancer of the esophagus and of the gastrointestinal tract. Inhaling asbestos fibers, which could have occurred when the packaging was disturbed during opening, can cause asbestosis, a scarring of the lungs; or cancer of the lung, the lining of the abdominal cavity or the digestive system.

While the risk of consuming or inhaling a small amount of asbestos fibers is considered minimal, the risk increases with exposure.

IDPH embargoed all food products in the Schiller Park plant and, at the insistence of IEPA, the plant was closed and secured.

The facility remained closed for several weeks as the decontamination proceeded and additional asbestos removal was conducted utilizing licensed asbestos abatement contractors. The decontamination project included all but a few areas of the production facility, which totaled more than 170,000 square feet in area.

The Department kept a watchful eye on the decontamination project until acceptable air and surface clearance was obtained and the plant could re-open.

Both IDPH and IEPA continued to investigate the circumstances of the asbestos removal and worked with the Attorney General’s office in its pursuit of enforcement action against Interstate Brands Corp., but no charges were filed.

In July 1998, the company was cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for numerous violations of regulations to protect workers during asbestos removals and fined $910,000.

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Illinois Department of Public Health
535 West Jefferson Street
Springfield, Illinois 62761
Phone 217-782-4977
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TTY 800-547-0466
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