Willowbrook residents voice concerns over cancer risks at community meeting

WILLOWBROOK, Ill. -- On Wednesday night, experts tried to ease fears, but for the people who live in Willowbrook, it’s simple: They don’t want a cancer-causing chemical in their community.

Hundreds showed up at community meeting to learn more about a chemical a sterilization services company is emitting into the air in Willowbrook.

The company is Sterigenics and the chemical in question is ethylene oxide, which experts say is a carcinogen.

“This is no longer just a suspected carcinogen but on the weight of the evidence it’s a known human carcinogen joining asbestos, cigarette smoke and very few other chemicals as known human carcinogens,” Dr. Peter Orris, University of Illinois at Chicago, said.

The meeting began with CDC and EPA experts discussing rigorous testing at the site, but these concerned residents didn’t want to hear it.

“I think I speak for the majority of people here. We want you out! Goodbye,” one resident said at the meeting. “We don’t want you in our community. Shame on you putting a place like you run in our community around four schools and a daycare. Cheers.”

“How many people think this company should not operate from now until they prove they are not causing these side effects?” one man said. The audience responded with cheers.

Representatives from Sterigenics tried to reassure the public.

“We do at the facility have continuous monitors to measure ethylene oxide concentrations,” Kathy Hoffman, senior vice president of Sterigenics, said.

Sterigenics is owned by a private equity firm co-founded by Gov. Bruce Rauner. Rauner left the firm in 2012 before running for governor.

On Tuesday, Rauner urged people to remain calm.

"I believe that company took the actions themselves, put in control equipment to reduce the emissions…So, this is, and the federal government, I wish they said it earlier, but they said it, I guess, in the last day or two, they put out a letter. This is not an emergency, this is not a public health immediate crisis, this is something we’re managing,” he said.

But the mayor of Willowbrook, who can see the company outside his office window, calls the situation urgent.

“It’s an emergency to me because all my citizens are concerned as well as all the employees here and I’m sure all the people who work in this area are and I am,” Frank Trilla said.