‘It’s disgraceful’: Residents demand change after cancer-causing chemicals found at Sterigenics facility

WILLOWBROOK, Ill. — Tensions over toxic pollution are rising in the southwestern suburbs.

Demonstrators Saturday protested outside the Sterigenics headquarters — demanding the company shut down after elevated levels of ethylene oxide, a cancer-causing chemical, were found in the air.

Sterigenics uses ethylene oxide to sterilize medical equipment. The company has been in the crosshairs of federal, state and local authorities ever since elevated levels of the chemical were detected.

“We know that ethylene oxide is more toxic to children — it’s a carcinogen — so we’re concerned that Sterigenics is pumping it into the atmosphere,” Indian Head Park resident Jordan Farris said. “They’re going to be breathing it in.”

Farris continued: “It’s disgraceful that the company is still being allowed to operate today. It needs to be shut down.”

Tom Hencinski said his family may have been affected by years of living near the Sterigenics facility. His wife of 38 years recently died of cancer, he said.

“She died of cancer in 2014. My daughter got Hodgkin’s lymphoma cancer, and she had a very tough time with that.”

Hencinski continued: “Nobody in my family ever had cancer. Now we’ve got two, one deceased. It’s very sad. Very unnerving. We’re afraid to live out here. We don’t know what to do.”

The only thing they can do, he said, is demonstrate their displeasure outside the company’s headquarters.

“Clean air is a must,” state Sen. John Curran said. “It’s non-negotiable.”

State Rep. Jim Durkin promised help from the state capitol: “We will not let this go. We are going to find some kind of resolution to this matter on the Springfield side.”

In a statement, Sterigenics said it’s operating within its permit: “By properly controlling emissions while preventing life-threatening infection, the Willowbrook facility serves to safeguard global health every day. Sterigenics remains committed to working with public officials to evolve regulations in the continued interest of public safety.”

This week, state and DuPage County health authorities tested water at 70 homes within a mile of the facility. Residents said they’re anxiously awaiting those results.