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Illinois EPA Shuts Down Willowbrook Sterigenics Friday Night, Mayor Says

New Sterigenics Air Quality Numbers Released
The EPA released new air quality numbers surrounding the controversial Sterigenics plant. NBC 5's Ash-har Quraishi has the details on concerned neighbors who have now renewed their fight for action.   (Published Tuesday, Feb 5, 2019 ) The EPA released new air quality numbers surrounding the controversial Sterigenics plant. See More

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The EPA released new air quality numbers surrounding the controversial Sterigenics plant. NBC 5's Ash-har Quraishi has the details on concerned neighbors who have now renewed their fight for action.

 
(Published Tuesday, Feb 5, 2019)

The controversial Sterigenics facility in Willowbrook was "shut down" Friday evening following new test results showing emissions of "the highest levels of [ethylene oxide] recorded in the area," the mayor of the suburban Chicago town said.

"As a result of Willowbrook’s new testing, I have been notified by the Illinois EPA that Sterigenics will be shut down this evening," Mayor Frank Trilla said in a statement.

The IEPA confirmed it has issued a Seal Order on the facility at 7775 S. Quincy St. "to prevent the commencement of any new sterilization cycles using ethylene oxide to prevent emissions which present an imminent and substantial endangerment to residents and off-site workers in the Willowbrook community."

Sterigenics said the EPA's decision was "indefensible."

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"Unilaterally preventing a business that is operating in compliance with all state permits and regulations from carrying out its vital function sets a dangerous precedent," the company said in a statement. "The Illinois EPA’s decision will place the health and lives of thousands of patients who rely on the critical medical products sterilized at Willowbrook at risk."

Sterigenics also said they would comply with the order but also take legal actions to reverse the decision.

New readings from an independent 30-day air monitoring test commissioned by the village showed outdoor levels of 21 parts per billion at the Willowbrook Village Hall and 89 parts per billion at the Willowbrook Police Department. Indoor readings at those locations were "even higher in some cases."

"These new test results prove one thing: Sterigenics needs to be shut down," Trilla said in a statement.

Governor JB Pritzker said that the decision shows the Illinois EPA's committment to "protect the health and well-being" of residents. 

"His office has been in regular contact with the Illinois EPA about exercising their authority to seal the operations of the Sterigenics plant that uses ethylene oxide as an extraordinary measure because the U.S. EPA and the company have refused to take immediate action," Pritzker's office said in a statement. 

State and local officials recently called on the EPA to immediately shut down the Willowbrook Sterigenics following reports of elevated levels of ethylene oxide concentrations surrounding the facility. 

In a joint statement, Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Attorney General Kwame Raoul urged the EPA to "protect the health and safety of families living near the [Willowbrook] facility." 

"Recent media reports of alleged improper handling of dangerous chemicals at the Sterigenics facility in Willowbrook and reports of elevated EtO levels within the Willowbrook community are deeply disturbing, and we urge the United States EPA to take swift and effective action to protect the health and safety of families living near the facility," the statement read.

Recent air-quality metrics released by the U.S. EPA revealed that the two sites closest to the suburban Chicago Sterigenics facilities have the highest ethylene oxide concentrations.

The EPA posted the results of 12 days of air-quality testing from late November into mid-December. One of the two locations with the highest concentrations include the Willowbrook Village Hall.

Average readings were a little over 2 micrograms per cubic meter, with readings as high as 10 or 11. Environmental health experts said the data confirms prior modeling data that went into the calculations, indicating the cancer risk at more than six extra cancers per 1,000.

The EPA considers one extra cancer per million as acceptable.

The EPA said that downwind of the Sterigenics facility, the concentrations in the community have been as high as 1.7 micrograms per cubic meter.

"They need to do what's right and protect this community and these children," said Sri Rao of Stop Sterigenics. "Levels at these schools are hundreds of times higher than the acceptable actual levels. This has to stop. Our children are being poisoned. We are being poisoned."

"We don't need any more tests," said Neringa Zymancius of Stop Sterigenics. "We are not lab rats for them to conduct testing to see how far they can keep releasing emissions until we all start dying."

The U.S. EPA previously said the data was too limited to determine the long-term health risks of the levels and expects to issue a full risk assessment in the spring.

Residents have also demanded an immediate shut-down of the facilities.

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