Congressional Dems meet with Sterigenics heads

But Sterigenics made few if any concessions on ethylene oxide, according to Sen. Durbin

U.S. Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin meet with Sotera Health CEO Michael Petras and Sterigenics President Phil MacNabb. (Sen. Dick Durbin)

U.S. Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin meet with Sotera Health CEO Michael Petras and Sterigenics President Phil MacNabb. (Sen. Dick Durbin)

By Ted Cox

Congressional Democrats met with the heads of the controversial Sterigenics firm in Willowbrook and its parent company Wednesday, but received few if any concessions on ethylene oxide, according to a news release put out by Sen. Dick Durbin.

According to Durbin, he and junior Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth and Congressmen Bill Foster, Brad Schneider, Sean Casten, and Dan Lipinski met Sterigenics President Phil MacNabb and Chief Executive Officer Michael Petras of Sterigenics’s corporate owner Sotera Health at Durbin’s Washington, D.C., office.

They met “to discuss high carcinogenic ethylene oxide emissions at the facility,” which have been blamed for an increased cancer risk in communities including and surrounding Willowbrook. According to the release, the members of Congress  “pressed the company representatives on what they plan to do to ensure the safety and health of Illinois residents who are at risk from high levels of EtO emitted from its plant, what long-term plans are in place for air emissions monitoring, and whether the company is considering alternatives to EtO for medical equipment sterilization.”

But it offered few details on the formal Sterigenics response.

“Illinois residents are rightfully distressed and worried about the EtO emissions coming from Sterigenics, and today we had the opportunity to meet directly with the company’s leadership to press for answers,” Durbin said. “The EPA certainly has a role to play when it comes to monitoring air emissions and enforcing regulations, but it’s equally important that Sterigenics recognizes the serious health hazards they’ve been cited for, and takes steps to mitigate risks for the residents in their facility’s backyard.”

“We know that ethylene oxide is a dangerous toxin that poses a serious health risk to Illinoisans in DuPage and Lake Counties, and steps must be made to mitigate this threat,” Duckworth added. “While my colleagues and I have called on the EPA to do its part in investigating and mitigating these threats, Sterigenics must also acknowledge its role in this public health crisis and be willing to work together to prevent more damage from being done.”

“It’s incumbent on the company to place the health of Illinois residents first as we continue to monitor air emissions to ensure the company complies with regulations based on the best available science,” Foster said. “Their cooperation is critical as we continue to receive reports from the EPA and assess the risk these emissions pose to public health and well-being.”

Lipinski called on Petras and MacNabb to meet directly with local residents, who have formed a grassroots group called Stop Sterigenics calling for the Willowbrook facilities to be shut down. “I also repeated my call from six weeks ago for Sterigenics to do perimeter monitoring of their Willowbrook facilities to produce a more accurate measure of the total amount of EtO being emitted and back up their claim that they are not the cause for the high EtO readings in the surrounding communities,” he added. “While I foremost believe that the Sterigenics plant should be closed, short of that happening, they should immediately draw up a perimeter monitoring plan for EPA approval.”

“I am extremely concerned about these carcinogenic emissions and the EPA’s ability to do their job and accurately analyze the air tests from the Sterigenics facility especially given the recent 35-day Trump shutdown,” Casten said. “My constituents deserve to know if their neighborhoods are safe.”


“The science is complicated, but the fact remains that these companies are emitting a potent toxin into our air.”

Neringa Zymancius of Stop Sterigenics (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

According to the release, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hasn’t published measurement data from EtO emissions at the Willowbrook Sterigenics facilities since Nov. 23, a month before the record 35-day partial government shutdown began, curtailing EPA operations.

The congressional Democrats have also pressed the EPA for information on Medline Industries in Waukegan and Vantage Specialty Chemicals in Gurnee, over an increased cancer risk in Lake County, also blamed on EtO emissions by those firms.

Sterigenics’s Willowbrook website insists only that it “operates safely today as it has throughout its history.”

Residents in the area have suits pending against Sterigenics, and the Office of the Attorney General is pursuing a suit to close the facilities.

Earlier this week, the same members of Congress accused the EPA of “capitulation” in welcoming industry input on actually weakening rather than strengthening regulations on EtO emissions.

Stop Sterigenics issued a response saying it expects action, while looking to Gov. J.B. Pritzker to exert influence on the state level.

“Lake, Cook, and DuPage communities are thankful that our federal officials are committed to protecting their constituents, diving into the science to be fully informed, and asking the right questions in their quest to protect our families,” said Neringa Zymancius, a Darien resident and member of Stop Sterigenics. “The science is complicated, but the fact remains that these companies are emitting a potent toxin into our air. We’re looking toward the Pritzker administration to keep his promise to move swiftly because we know the federal process will be lengthy at the cost of more lives lost and suffering in our communities.”