Village mayor seeks Sterigenics shutdown

Stop Sterigenics community group plans protest Saturday at firm’s headquarters in Oak Brook

Neringa Zymancius leads Stop Sterigenics members and public officials in calling for a Sterigenics shutdown in October outside the Thompson Center in Chicago. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

Neringa Zymancius leads Stop Sterigenics members and public officials in calling for a Sterigenics shutdown in October outside the Thompson Center in Chicago. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

By Ted Cox

The mayor of Willowbrook has renewed calls for the Sterigenics facilities there to be shut down, as testing of air and water for the carcinogenic ethylene oxide continues.

After the latest testing by the U.S. Environmental Protection released last week detected EtO at two sites close to Sterigenics, Willowbrook Mayor Frank Trilla released a letter this week citing uneven test results and renewing calls for the medical sterilization firm to be shut down.

“We ask that the state and county seek immediately an interim order requiring that Sterigenics shut down its Willowbrook facilities until such time as the U.S. EPA, state, county, and village can determine why such high levels of EtO were detected” a month ago, Trilla wrote.

According to the mayor, Willowbrook will test EtO levels indoors at the Village Hall and Police Building over a 30-day period. Meanwhile, the Gower School Distrct is re-routing buses away from areas where EtO was recently detected.

On Thursday, water was being tested at local homes in the area for EtO and ethylene glycol, a byproduct local residents suspect might have been released into the water supply. Ethylene glycol is highly toxic and is used in antifreeze.

“We’ve been fighting for this for a while now,” said Neringa Zymancius, of Stop Sterigenics. She added there were more than 100 wells in the area subject to contamination.

The Stop Sterigenics community group has called a protest for noon Saturday at the Sterigenics Headquarters at 2015 Spring Road in Oak Brook. According to the group, recent tests in Willowbrook and Burr Ridge have found “elevated levels (of) EtO in our air, in our homes, in our schools.” They too called for an immediate shutdown.

“It’s getting to the point of frustration,” Zymancius said. “They’re still operating!”

Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed suit in October to shut down Sterigenics at the request of the Illinois EPA, but the case is working its way through the courts while additional testing is conducted.

According to Zymancius, the EPA or IPEA could move to shut down the firm citing the Clean Air Act, but neither has taken action. She said testing by the EPA a month ago found no traces of EtO near parks and schools, but testing conducted at the same time by Willowbrook through an independent firm did, which is one reason why the village persists in conducting its own tests.

Gov. Bruce Rauner has owned stock in Sterigenics through investments, and Madigan has previously charged that the IEPA was slow to pass along emissions data on the firm. She also charged that the U.S. EPA warned Sterigenics about a known cancer cluster in the area months before the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services warned residents about it, blaming Sterigenics and EtO, and that the IEPA knew about it as well and withheld information from the public.

Sterigenics has insisted it has released EtO into the air below legal limits, and it blamed the most recent test results on “a number of factors including proximity to sources of EtO, of which there are many including exhaust from diesel trucks and automobiles, and the weather conditions on the days that samples were collected.” Zymancius scoffed at that excuse.

U.S. Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin have joined other state congressional Democrats in calling for new EtO limits to be set. They point out that EtO was only formally declared a carcinogen two years ago in the last months of the Obama administration, and the Trump administration has not addressed that by resetting legally permissible emissions of the chemical.