‘Stop Sterigenics' Group Takes Fight to Illinois Lawmakers

Residents around the Sterigenics facility in suburban Willowbrook took their fight to keep the plant permanently closed to state legislators on Tuesday.

The "Stop Sterigenics" community group met at Borse Park to board buses headed for Springfield, Illinois, to meet with lawmakers on the issue.

"We would like to see ethylene oxide emissions banned in the state of Illinois so that no community is affected as ours was," said Sri Rao with "Stop Sterigenics." 

The controversial facility was "shut down" Friday evening after new test results showed emissions of "the highest levels of [ethylene oxide] recorded in the area," the mayor of Willowbrook said. Ethylene oxide is a known carcinogen. The EPA posted the results of 12 days of air-quality testing from late November into mid-December. Environmental health experts said the data collected indicates the cancer risk was at more than six extra cancers per 1,000 people. The EPA considers one extra cancer per million an acceptable limit.

"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 Friday.

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."

"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.

The "Stop Sterigenics" group aimed to meet with lawmakers Tuesday in hopes of getting other facilities emitting that chemical compound in Illinois and across the country shut down as well.

"We cannot continue to allow companies like Sterigenics to prioritize profits over the lives of people," said Gabriella Tejada Rios with "Stop Sterigenics.""We need a permanent legislative solution to protect the people of Illinois and the generations to come." 

Bi-partisan momentum for such a shutdown seems to be growing in the state legislature.

"The IEPA's decision was a positive first step, but it was a temporary first step," said Sen. John Curran. "We need to act, as a legislature, on a permanent basis." 

A number of bills are now pending, including requiring a company to notify residents of emissions events and participate in license renewal hearings near the plant, not in Springfield.

Legislators also said they will be calling on Washington to take further action. 

"There are two facilities in Lake County that are currently emitting ethylene oxide," said Sen. Melinda Bush. "I have called on the EPA to take action and test emission levels and it's well past time for the EPA to do so." 

More hearings are scheduled in Springfield Tuesday on Sterigenics and other ethelyne oxide-emitting companies.

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