Sterigenics shut down!

IEPA ‘seals’ Willowbrook firm, bans use of ethylene oxide

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency sealed off a Sterigenics facility in Willowbrook Friday and prohibited it from using ethylene oxide. (Twitter/Lissa Druss)

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency sealed off a Sterigenics facility in Willowbrook Friday and prohibited it from using ethylene oxide. (Twitter/Lissa Druss)

By Ted Cox

Sterigenics is shut down — prohibited from using ethylene oxide in its sterilization processes in Willowbrook.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency issued a seal order Friday prohibiting the use of ethylene oxide at the Sterigenics facility at 7775 S. Quincy St., Willowbrook. Acting IEPA Director John Kim, recently appointed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, issued the order, which will remain in place until he rescinds it.

Kim cited a report issued last August by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which found, “If measured and modeled data represent typical ethylene oxide ambient concentrations in ambient air, an elevated cancer risk exists for residents and off-site workers in the Willowbrook community surrounding the Sterigenics facility. These elevated cancer risks present a public health hazard to these populations.” [Emphasis included.]

"Since that time,” the IEPA added in a news release, “ambient air sampling conducted by U.S. EPA and the village of Willowbrook has consistently found outdoor ambient levels of ethylene oxide in commercial and residential areas as high or higher than the levels used by the ATSDR.”

The EPA informed Sterigenics of the cancer risk more than a year ago, and the IEPA reportedly knew of it as well, allowing Sterigenics to install new anti-pollution devices in what then-Attorney General Lisa Madigan charged was a cover-up. Former Gov. Bruce Rauner has owned stock in the company through a private equity fund he co-founded, and the IEPA was slow to urge Madigan’s office to close Sterigenics under his administration. The IEPA seal order referred to how the most recent air samples taken late last year and released to the public this year found levels higher than ever.

“Recent elevated sampling results, along with Sterigenics’s refusal to voluntarily suspend operations, have resulted in the issuance of the seal order,” the IEPA declared.

Those air samples prompted a new round of protests from the Stop Sterogenics community group that has led the fight against the firm. Local, state, and national elected officials piled on calling for the EPA to take action and the firm to be shut down.

Sterigenics has insisted it has operated at all times under legal limits and issued a statement Friday calling the action “indefensible,” adding that it “will comply with the order and will take all legal actions necessary to reverse this decision.”

But congressional Democrats have repeatedly insisted that the Trump administration never reassessed legal limits of EtO since the Obama administration formally declared it a carcinogen at the end of 2016.

Just this week, congressional Democrats including both Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin called on the EPA to set new limits on EtO.

Pritzker immediately backed the order. “I’m committed to protecting the health and well-being of every Illinoisan,” he tweeted. “After the U.S. EPA and Sterigenics refused to take immediate action, my administration had to step in, and we’ll continue to take any available and necessary action.”