Sterigenics plans to 'exit' Willowbrook
Last updated 10/2/2019 at 2:50pm | View PDF
SPRINGFIELD — Sterigenics, a medical supply sterilization company linked to increased cancer risk in the DuPage County area, said Monday it plans to “exit its ethylene oxide sterilization operations in Willowbrook.”
Since February, Sterigenics was prohibited from using the gas by a seal order from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, which effectively forced its closure.
A consent agreement between the state, DuPage County and Sterigenics approved earlier this month gave the company clearance to install the necessary equipment for its facility to reopen, however.
Sterigenics stated in a press release Monday it could “not reach an agreement to renew the lease on its Quincy Street facility in Willowbrook in the present environment,” and blamed the “unstable legislative and regulatory landscape in Illinois” for its decision not to reopen.
There are two bills — House Bill 3885 and House Bill 3888 — currently moving through the Legislature that would, respectively, give home rule municipalities greater authority to ban emissions of the gas and phase out its use over a period of years. They are expected to be on the table for discussion when the General Assembly returns for fall veto session on Oct. 28.
Both measures would build upon Senate Bills 1852 and 1854, which were signed into law earlier this year creating what both sides agreed were the strictest regulations on ethylene oxide in the nation.
State Rep. Deanne Mazzochi, an Elmhurst Republican, was the chief co-sponsor of SB 1852, known as the Matt Haller Act. She criticized the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency for its rubber0stamp approach.
“While today’s announcement can be viewed as a solid victory for residents of Willowbrook and surrounding communities, we are prepared to go further to make sure the Illinois EPA ends these lax oversight practices,” said said in a statement released Monday. “The state as a whole will benefit from an Illinois EPA that does its job correctly to ensure that the air we breathe is safe.”
State Sen. John Curran, a Downers Grove Republican who was among the first public officials to speak out against the company, was the Senate sponsor the act. He also opposed any avenue for Sterigenics to reopen.
“This is tremendous news for the people of Willowbrook and the surrounding communities,” Curran said in a statement. “The risks involved with this facility reopening were simply too great to the public health. This announcement from Sterigenics is the direct result of the tireless advocacy of Stop Sterigenics and other community organizations, who have proven once again that when we all work together, we will not be stopped. Now it is our job to remain vigilant in continuing to protect the health of those we serve.”
Stop Sterigenics, a grassroots group, said it would continue to push for further regulation of ethylene oxide. That was echoed by House Republican Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs, who is sponsoring the bill that would give home rule municipalities the authority to ban ethylene oxide emissions.
“Sterigenics got the message that we were never going to let them reopen their doors and poison our communities again,” said Durkin, who represents the Willowbrook area.
Sterigenics was just one of 26 facilities in Illinois permitted to use or emit ethylene oxide, an IEPA spokesperson said in July. Two others — Vantage Specialty Chemicals and Medline Industries — are located in Lake County and have faced increased pushback from community members in recent weeks, including from the activist group Stop ETO in Lake County.
Last week, Pritzker’s office said the governor was receptive to further regulation of ethylene oxide that might emerge from the upcoming veto session.
“He is committed to signing the measure and the administration will strictly enforce it,” spokesperson Jordan Abudayyeh said.
Last week, representatives of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, Illinois Chamber of Commerce, Illinois Biotechnology Industry Organization and the Chemical Industry Council of Illinois sent a letter to General Assembly members to oppose “any additional efforts to further restrict or ban the use of ethylene oxide in Illinois.”
“The economic hit of an ethylene oxide ban would be significant, with an initial loss of at least 1,500 jobs in Illinois, including unionized positions,” they said in the letter.