Stop Sterigenics rejects deal to reopen EtO firm

Atty. Gen. Raoul, DuPage State’s Atty. Berlin defend agreement, say new state law will protect residents

House Minority Leader Jim Durkin joins members of Stop Sterigenics in protesting EtO emissions in Willowbrook last October. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

House Minority Leader Jim Durkin joins members of Stop Sterigenics in protesting EtO emissions in Willowbrook last October. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

By Ted Cox

Local grassroots groups and politicians are rejecting a deal to potentially reopen the Sterigenics facility in Willowbrook — blamed for an elevated cancer risk in the area attributed to the release of ethylene oxide in sterilization.

Sterigenics touted the consent order Wednesday, reached with Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin, and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and filed in court documents. The sterilization firm said it cleared the way to install new emission-control equipment “that will enable the Willowbrook facility to meet the new, stringent standards set by the state of Illinois for sterilization using ethylene oxide” in a law signed by Gov. Pritzker in June.

Yet the group Stop Sterigenics rejected that pact. “This is far from over,” the group said in a statement. “It’s disappointing the state couldn’t go further to protect a community that has been burdened by this company’s emissions for decades.”

State Rep. Jim Durkin of Western Springs, who has joined Stop Sterigenics in opposing the firm for almost a year, likewise expressed disappointment. According to Rich Miller’s Capitol Fax, a Durkin staffer said the House minority leader joined state Sen. John Curran of Downers Grove and state Rep. Deanne Mazzochi of Elmhurst in expressing “their extreme opposition and frustration to the potential of Sterigenics reopening.”

“I do not support the agreement reached by the IEPA, the Illinois attorney general, and Sterigenics, which will allow the facility to resume operations,” Curran said in a statement. “Rather, I will continue to stand with the residents of Willowbrook and the surrounding communities who are fighting for clean air and a healthy future. For years, as testing has shown, Sterigenics has posed a critical public health risk to our communities. They must remain closed.”

Durkin had expected the issue to be addressed at an IEPA public meeting still set for Aug. 1 at Ashton Place in Willowbrook.

The grassroots group Stop EtO, which has fought a similar battle in Lake County, chimed in, calling it “a shame that such an irresponsible company will be allowed to reopen and continue emitting a known cancer and reproductive hazard.”

Raoul and Berlin insisted the deal would guarantee safety to local residents in Chicago’s southwest suburbs thanks to the Matt Haller Act, the EtO bill signed into law by Pritzker and named after a local resident who recently died of cancer blamed on EtO emissions.

“The consent decree entered into today should in no way be considered a license for Sterigenics to reopen,” Berlin said. “The decree will govern Sterigenics going forward and in doing so goes above and beyond the most restrictive regulations in the country placed upon businesses that use EtO in their operations.”

Raoul said the consent order “surpasses” the regulations established in the new law. “In addition, Sterigenics must comply with the strictest capture and control requirements in the nation and cannot reopen until it is in compliance,” he added. “The proposed consent order, combined with the strict regulations in the new law signed last month, will enable the state to act quickly to hold Sterigenics accountable for violating Illinois’s emissions limits.”

The consent order puts the onus on the IEPA to monitor installation of the new equipment and make sure it’s meeting the strict new standards. According to a news release put out by the Office of the Attorney General, it requires that any sterilization firm “captures 100 percent of all EtO emissions generated by the facility. Additionally, these facilities must reduce EtO emissions to the atmosphere from each exhaust point by at least 99.9 percent, or 0.2 parts per million. The law also requires facilities to conduct annual emissions tests and submit results to the IEPA.”

Illinois EPA Director John Kim said his agency would see those standards were met, adding, “This agreement calls for Sterigenics to not only comply with those new requirements, but also imposes additional requirements to further protect the public and the environment. The Illinois EPA will devote all necessary resources to enforce the terms of this consent order.”

Stop Sterigenics, however, has insisted that no level of EtO is safe.

A federal agency detected an elevated cancer risk in the area in a report release last August, but the U.S. EPA under President Trump and the IEPA under former Gov. Rauner dragged their feet on taking action. It wasn’t until a month after Pritzker took office that the IEPA issued a seal order at Sterigenics’s Willowbrook facility in February.