IEPA withholds data on Rauner company

State agency resists attorney general’s request for emission figures from controversial Willowbrook company Sterigenics

With Gov. Rauner behind him, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency Director Alec Messina speaks at a news conference this summer. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

With Gov. Rauner behind him, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency Director Alec Messina speaks at a news conference this summer. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

By Ted Cox

A state agency resisted passing along emission figures for a controversial Willowbrook company Gov. Rauner has an ownership stake in.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a Freedom of Information Act request last month with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency seeking emission data for Sterigenics, a Willowbrook company that has been accused of releasing carcinogens into the air. But the IEPA initially resisted passing along that information until being compelled to do so last week by leading Republicans in the General Assembly.

Madigan’s office stated Monday that it had received the emission figures.

IEPA spokeswoman Kim Biggs added Monday that the agency has “fully complied with the FOIA request from the Attorney General’s Office.”

According to the Chicago Tribune, Gov. Bruce Rauner filed formal paperwork with a state ethics board in May stating he has a financial interest in Sterigenics through a private equity fund.

Last month, the U.S. EPA released a report declaring that “an elevated cancer risk exists for residents and off-site workers in the Willowbrook community surrounding the Sterigenics facility. These elevated risks present a public health hazard to these populations.” Area residents have since been up in arms about the company and have called for it to be shut down, even as Sterigenics has argued that it’s operating under legal limits.

The report blamed the release of ethylene oxide at Sterigenics, which claims to be “a global leader in contract sterilization services.” According to a group of area residents called Stop Sterigenics, it was fined by Madigan’s office “for a significant spill of ethylene glycol and an uncontrolled release of ethylene oxide” in 2013, and data collected in 2014 showed “elevated cancer risks in Willowbrook and the neighboring communities of Burr Ridge, La Grange, and Western Springs in Cook County, and Hinsdale, Clarendon Hills, Westmont, and Darien in DuPage County.”

According to the Tribune, the IEPA initially resisted Madigan’s request for emission data for the last two decades at Sterigenics, arguing that it constituted confidential business information. Responding to constituent concerns, House Republican leader Jim Durkin of Darien and state Sen. John Curran of Downers Grove called on IEPA Director Alec Messina to release the information late last week.

Biggs insisted, however, that the Tribune story “failed to include the fact that Illinois EPA provided a majority of the documents, 717 pages, in our initial response on Sept. 17. There were an additional 290 pages that were initially claimed as Confidential Business Information. Those remaining pages were provided to the Attorney General’s Office on Sept. 20.”

Madigan’s office is now processing the information as part of an ongoing investigation.