Illinois Medical Instrument Sterilization Plant to Reopen with Emission Control Equipment

July 19, 2019

The operator of a closed suburban Chicago plant where medical instruments were sterilized with a cancer-causing chemical has reached an agreement with the state of Illinois that will allow the plant to reopen, both sides announced on July 12.

Attorney General Kwame Raoul and DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin sued Oak Brook-based Sterigenics LLC last year over air pollution violations caused by the release of ethylene oxide from its Willowbrook plant.

“By resolving this matter, we are one major step closer to resuming the critical work of sterilizing vital medical products and devices in Willowbrook for patients in Illinois and beyond,” said Sterigenics president Philip Macnabb.

The agreement filed in DuPage County Circuit Court will allow Sterigenics to resume operations after installing additional emission capture and control equipment at the plant. If the agreement is approved by the court, Sterigenics will be absolved of any liability for past pollution problems.

Raoul said Sterigenics will be required to comply with the strictest capture and control requirements in the nation and can’t reopen until it is in compliance.

“The proposed consent order, combined with the strict regulations in the new law signed last month, will enable the state to act quickly to hold Sterigenics accountable for violating Illinois’ emissions limits,” he said in a statement.

Gov. J.B. Pritizker in June signed a law In June prohibiting ethylene oxide-emitting sterilization facilities, including Sterigenics, from operating in Illinois unless the facility captures 100 percent of all ethylene oxide emissions generated by the facility. Additionally, these facilities must reduce ethylene oxide emissions to the atmosphere from each exhaust point by at least 99.9 percent, or 0.2 parts per million.

With the deal, Sterigenics also agreed to fund $300,000 in community projects designed in coordination with the state to benefit the environment and the local community. However, some local residents remain opposed to reopening the plant, closed by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency in February after air quality monitoring recorded spikes of the toxic gas in surrounding neighborhoods.

Joanna Chlystek said after being pregnant for five months, she lost her baby a few weeks ago, which a doctor attributed to genetic issues.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that this is Sterigenics,” she told WBBM-AM radio. “Because that’s what we know, exposure of ethylene oxide mutates genes.”

A study released in March by the Illinois Department of Public Health determined there was an increased incidence of some cancers in the neighborhood around Sterigenics. The study found higher rates of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, as well as ovarian, breast and pancreatic cancer.

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