CHICAGO AREA SCHOOL CLOSINGS AND EARLY DISMISSALS

Residents speak out at EPA forum to address health concerns in Willowbrook

WILLOWBROOK, Ill. — The Environmental Protection Agency held a forum in Willowbrook Thursday evening to address health concerns surrounding a controversial medical sterilization plant in the southwest suburbs.

Sterigenics is facing multiple lawsuits filed by the state and DuPage Count as well as from residents who said a chemical from the plant made them sick.

The town hall meeting was packed with residents hoping to get some answers.

Some residents described several spills of ethylene oxide by Sterigenics,  a chemical the EPA revealed it found to be up to 60 times more toxic than previously believed.

"What we saw is the potential for relatively high risk in some places, and Willowbrook is one of those places," Bill Wehrum, EPA, said.

Sterigenics uses ethylene oxide, also known as EtO, to sterilize medical equipment and supplies. It’s a known carcinogen but the company insists its use of it is safe. Residents who live near the plant said they’re becoming very sick and they can think of only one reason why.

"No one else in my family has these health issues, and my health so rapidly decreased when I moved closer to the facility," Mallory Clark, Willowbrook resident, said.

An EPA-hosted open house was held earlier on Thursday to provide locals with more information. Sterigenics issued the following statement:

"Since 1984, our Willowbrook facility has been sterilizing critical medical devices and products that patients and hospitals around the world rely on for life-saving procedures. Our operations are guided by our commitment to safety. We understand our responsibility in the safe handling of ethylene oxide ('EO') and we take that responsibility very seriously.”

“I can only imagine what it would be like if my child was going to the schools that are right there in the back yard of Sterigenics,” Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D) Illinois, said.

State Rep. Deanne Mazzochi (R) Elmhurst said she has witnessed the “devastating health effects” that have been reported by people in the district.

The EPA admitted its last round of air testing in Willowbrook was flawed. It’s taking new samples of the air around the plant, which it believes will provide a much clearer picture of any health risk that may exist.

Locals fear, for them, that work is much too late.