Sterigenics has announced plans to leave Willowbrook despite a recent agreement allowing it to reopen months after it was shut down by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency due to due to emissions of a cancer-causing gas in neighborhoods surrounding the plant.
The company said it "could not reach an agreement to renew the lease on its Quincy Street facility in Willowbrook in the present environment." It also plans to stop pursuing plans to reopen its second location on Midway Drive in Willbrook "given the unstable legislative and regulatory landscape in Illinois."
"Sterigenics appreciates that the State of Illinois has clearly acknowledged the company’s consistent record of regulatory compliance as well as the safety of the new controls we agreed to implement, and we made every effort to reach a constructive resolution," the company said in a statement. "Unfortunately, inaccurate and unfounded claims regarding Sterigenics and the unstable legislative and regulatory landscape in Illinois have created an environment in which it is not prudent to maintain these critical sterilization operations in Willowbrook."
At a news conference on Monday, Willowbrook Mayor Frank Trilla said the city welcomes the decision.
"We will be happy to help them with anything going forward to expedite their exit... We are thrilled and looking forward to life after Sterigenics," he said.
Illinois Rep. Jim Durkin said the community can now move forward, and begin a new chapter.
"The residents of Willowbrook and this area, you can breathe again," he said. "You can go back to living a normal life."
The company said it plans to continue using its other facilities to continue operations.
"Hospitals and patients around the United States and the world depend on Sterigenics for vital, sterilized medical products, and we cannot provide them with the certainty they require while operating safely in a state that will suspend operations of a business despite the company’s compliance with applicable rules and regulations. We are actively taking steps to ensure customer and patient needs continue to be met by our other facilities and are working with our employees throughout this transition," the statement read. "Sterigenics will continue to lead the way in industry safety by voluntarily implementing new controls at our other sterilization facilities. These controls will set a new standard for EO emissions and reaffirm our longstanding commitment to go beyond regulatory requirements."
Earlier this month, a judge ruled an agreement between the company and Attorney General Kwame Raoul and DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin meant the Sterigenics would be allowed to reopen if it reapplied for a permit with the Illinois EPA and installed new emissions control equipment.
When the agreement was announced, Sterigenics president Philip Macnabb said resolution of the matter puts the company a step closer to resuming the work of sterilizing vital medical products and devices for patients in Illinois and beyond.
Several communities, including Willowbrook, Darien, and Burr Ridge, joined together and filed a motion in court looking to delay the reopening of the plant after the agreement was announced.
Nearly three dozen people, including NBC 5 news anchor Rob Stafford, have also sued the operator of the medical equipment cleaning plant, claiming it emits fumes that have adversely affected their health.
"Anyone who lives near Sterigenics will shudder to learn that this dangerous company will be allowed to reopen," Antonio Romanucci of Romanucci & Blandin, LLC, one of the law firms representing residents in the suits, said in a statement. "They have proven time and again that they are irresponsible and willing to put countless lives in jeopardy by emitting the toxic chemical ethylene oxide into the surrounding atmosphere at high levels."
A spokesperson for the company has previously said Sterigenics believes the lawsuits filed against them lack merit and they plan to "vigorously" defend against them.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker tweeted that the company's decision demonstrates "that Illinoisans will come together to protect the health and wellbeing of all our residents."
"From shutting down their operations in February to enacting the nation's strongest law regulating ethylene oxide, we sent a clear, unified message that we will take all possible steps to protect residents' health," he wrote.