Officials in Willowbrook, Burr Ridge, Darien, and Hinsdale are reportedly considering jointly acquiring the Sterigenics properties in Willowbrook in an effort to prevent the company from reopening. Sterigenics was shut down in Willowbrook earlier in the year out of concerns about its emissions of ethylene oxide, a known cancer-causing chemical that is used to sterilize medical supplies and other products.
Possible Sterigenics Reopening Under Consideration
The Sterigenics properties under consideration are located at 7773 Quincy Street and 830 Midway Drive in Willowbrook, IL. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) closed both of the properties in February 2019 in response to independent environmental testing that found “the highest levels of [ethylene oxide] recorded in the area to date.”
In June, the Illinois General Assembly passed the Matt Haller Act, named after a 45-year-old Willowbrook resident who was the first plaintiff to pass away from cancer after filing a lawsuit against Sterigenics. The Act prohibits the use of ethylene oxide by any facility that has violations requiring a seal order and imposes new regulations on the operations and emissions at medical sterilization plants.
But Sterigenics later struck a deal with the Illinois Attorney General’s Office to restart operations at one of its two Willowbrook properties. The proposed deal was filed in the DuPage County Circuit Court on July 17 and now awaits judicial approval. The agreement would clear the company to restart operations following the installation of new equipment to dramatically reduce its ethylene oxide emissions. Sterigenics has already applied for a construction permit to install the equipment.
In exchange for its compliance, the proposed agreement would absolve Sterigenics of any liability with state regulators for past pollution problems. It also would not require the company to pay any fines to the IEPA.
The proposed deal had outraged many area residents and officials since it had been made without community knowledge or support. On July 24, however, a DuPage County judge delayed approval of the agreement, keeping the Willowbrook facility shut down until at least September. Arguing that the public has a right to intervene in this matter, the judge ordered Willowbrook, Darien, Hinsdale, and Burr Ridge – the nearby communities most impacted by the Sterigenics plant – to file briefs on the deal by August 30. The company will then have one week to respond to the briefs, with the judge expected to issue a ruling on the deal on September 6.
Officials Spurred to Action on Sterigenics Properties
Uncertainty about whether Sterigenics will resume operations in Willowbrook has spurred community officials to action. On August 5, the Darien City Council unanimously approved a resolution to study an agreement to acquire the Sterigenics properties, with Burr Ridge and Willowbrook soon following suit. Hinsdale officials discussed the intergovernmental agreement on August 6 and are expected to vote on September 3.
“Borders of municipalities do not matter on this issue,” said Burr Ridge Mayor Gary Grasso at a Village Board meeting on August 12. “We talked to our lawyers and came up with the idea of possibly condemning the Sterigenics buildings and taking them over for a public purpose. We think there is a good argument to be made for spending our money and improving these sites for the public.”
The resolution does not authorize the communities to spend any money on acquisition, but it would give officials the authority to study the possibility. If passed, the resolution would allow representatives from the four villages to discuss what public use of the Sterigenics properties would be appropriate, the legislation they would need to pursue the purchase, the means of financing it, and the allocation of any costs for the purchase – which Willowbrook Mayor Frank Trilla insists would remain a last resort.
“It’s something we don’t want to do,” said Mayor Trilla. “We have no idea how much money we are talking about.”
Some community officials, however, insist that the action is necessary for the safety of area residents.
“I just am afraid if we allowed the courts to handle this, they would delay it,” argued Burr Ridge Village Board member Al Paveza. “There’s no doubt in my mind, this is the way to go.”
Have You Developed Cancer in the Willowbrook Area?
GWC Injury Lawyers has been retained by several individuals who have lived or worked near the Sterigenics facility for a number of years and have developed cancer or other serious medical conditions that may be related to their exposure to ethylene oxide gas.
If you have lived or worked near the Sterigenics facility in Willowbrook and have been diagnosed with cancer, contact GWC today for a free consultation. Call our office at (312) 464-1234 or click here to chat with a representative at any time.