Sterigenics Trying to Reopen Shuttered Willowbrook Facility

SterigenicsSterigenics has filed a proposal with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) in an attempt to reopen its shuttered Willowbrook facility. The Willowbrook plant has been shut down since February 2019 after the IEPA issued a “Seal Order” prohibiting the company from pumping cancer-causing ethylene oxide gas into its sterilization chambers.

Sterigenics Claims It Will Reduce Emissions

Sterigenics filed its proposal with the IEPA on June 27, 2019. The company said it would install another set of pollution control equipment to prevent nearly all of its ethylene oxide from escaping into the surrounding area. Sterigenics uses ethylene oxide to sterilize medical equipment, drugs, and food.

The Sterigenics proposal is limited to overhauling one of two buildings in an industrial park that is behind a Target store and across the street from Willowbrook Village Hall. If approved, Sterigenics claims that its plan would reduce ethylene oxide emissions from the retrofitted Willowbrook facility to 85 pounds per year, down from 4,600 pounds as recently as 2017. (The company said it has not yet decided whether it will try to reopen its second Willowbrook building.) The proposed changes at Sterigenics are similar to those already being implemented at Medline Industries in Waukegan, another facility that emits high levels of ethylene oxide gas.

The Sterigenics proposal is designed to comply with a newly enacted state law that clamps down on ethylene oxide emissions from industrial facilities in Illinois. A provision of that law specifically singles out the company. It prevents Sterigenics from reopening unless the medical equipment suppliers that are the its chief clients certify that their products can only be sterilized with ethylene oxide.

Company’s History of Broken Promises

Attorneys for Sterigenics have so far been unable to persuade a DuPage County judge to lift the IEPA’s Seal Order. Meanwhile, critics have noted that this proposal is not the first time the company has promised dramatic improvements in reducing its ethylene oxide emissions – promises on which it could not deliver.

In Summer 2018, Sterigenics ducted vents from its sterilization chambers into existing pollution controls at both of its Willowbrook buildings. The move was made in response to a damning United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) assessment. EPA scientists had calculated that 20,000 people living in seven census tracts near the Willowbrook plant faced potential lifetime cancer risks up to nine times higher than the national average.

Despite these modifications, ethylene oxide emissions from the Willowbrook facility reportedly went up. In February, private consultants hired by the Village of Willowbrook found “extreme daily fluctuations” in ethylene oxide levels and “the highest levels of [ethylene oxide] recorded in the area to date.” The results led Gov. JB Pritzker’s administration to declare the Sterigenics facility a public health hazard, prompting the IEPA to issue the Seal Order that effectively shut it down. A later EPA report also revealed that Sterigenics’ ethylene oxide emissions prior to the shutdown remained significantly higher than agency guidelines.

“Sterigenics’ poor past performance should guarantee no future permit,” said State Sen. John Curran of Downers Grove, House Minority Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs, and Rep. Deanne Mazzochi of Elmhurst, three lawmakers who helped negotiate the recent ethylene oxide emissions bill. “We do not see how Sterigenics can comply with the new law’s strict requirements to ever open its Willowbrook doors again.”

Sterigenics Lawsuit Attorneys

GWC Injury Lawyers has been retained by several parties who have lived or worked near the Sterigenics facility for a number of years and have developed cancers 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 one of our representatives at any time.