Illinois leaders call upon EPA to shut down Sterigenics

CHICAGO — Local officials are calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to shut down the Willowbrook Sterigenics plant before anyone else gets sick. Leaders gathered in the lobby of the EPA headquarters Friday to send a message: The EPA is supposed to keep the public safe and it’s time that they stepped in to protect the people of Willowbrook.

Sterigenics uses ethylene oxide to sterilize medical equipment, pharmaceutical drugs and food.

People who live nearby said that chemical is giving them cancer.

Last summer, the company said it installed equipment to reduce emissions. But when the EPA recently re-tested the air the results were alarming.

“Now we have testing that shows it’s much worse than what was originally found two months ago,” Rep. Dan Lipinski said.

Community members called it a public health crisis and they want the plant shuttered until it can operate safely.

Governor J.B. Pritzger tweeted during the election calling for Sterigenics to be closed down immediately.

Since taking office Pritzger has not explicitly called for the plant to be shut down. But Friday he said he wants to see concrete steps taken to protect people’s health and if that doesn’t happen he will take legal steps with the attorney general. His office released a statement saying:

While there were several issues discussed Thursday with representatives from the U.S. EPA, Sterigenics and the Illinois EPA, this administration must see more immediate, concrete steps taken to secure residents’ health and safety. In the absence of concrete steps, we will work with the Office of the Attorney General to exercise all available legal authority to protect the community.

Other elected officials agreed.

“The EPA is responsible for protecting public health,” Lipinski said.  “The EPA is failing to do that.”

Sterigenics said earlier this week there is not enough information to draw conclusions about what impact its plant is having on people’s health.

Friday they released a new statement saying the latest testing shows ethylene oxide is only present in “extremely low levels in the atmosphere…” and any action to shut them down would set an “extremely bad precedent.”

Sterigenics met with the EPA yesterday. It’s unclear what the outcome was of that meeting. The EPA did not return WGN News’s request for comment.

Read the full statement from Sterigenics "regarding Press Conference on Willowbrook facility"


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