Judge's ruling paves way for Sterigenics reopening

State rep proposes giving some towns power to ban emissions

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By Jerry Nowicki

Capitol News Service

SPRINGFIELD – A DuPage County judge approved a consent order on Sept. 6 that will allow Sterigenics, a medical supply sterilization company linked to increased cancer rates in the southwest suburbs, to reopen if it meets stringent new requirements.

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul and DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin issued a statement saying their consent order with Sterigenics, which is located in Willowbrook, gives their offices "the tools to act quickly to protect the community and hold Sterigenics accountable for any future violations of Illinois' new ethylene oxide restrictions or other state environmental laws."

One state lawmaker, however, has filed a bill that would give certain local municipalities the authority to ban emitters of ethylene oxide, a known cancer-causing gas, from operating in their communities.

"Sterigenics continues to prove they cannot be trusted and have no place in our region," Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin said in a statement.

Durkin filed House Bill 3885 on Sept. 6 to allow home-rule municipalities including Willowbrook, to "impose additional operating restrictions" or prohibitions above and beyond state law on companies that emit ethylene oxide.

Home rule is a status that state law confers to any municipality with more than 25,000 residents or other municipalities that choose to adopt it by referendum. Those municipalities have greater authority to control their own local affairs.

"If the Illinois [Environmental Protection Agency] continues moving forward in issuing permits, then we must do everything we can to empower our local municipalities in their fight to keep Sterigenics closed for good," Durkin said.

Sterigenics has been closed since February, when Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker ordered the IEPA to issue a seal order on the company's use of ethylene oxide. The consent order paves the way for Sterigenics to continue its use of the chemical if it installs new systems to capture and control emissions and submits plans for testing the new systems to be reviewed and approved by the IEPA.

The company must also prove it meets the stringent requirements set forth in the consent decree and Senate Bill 1852, a measure sponsored by Durkin and signed by Pritzker earlier this year. 

That law prevents sterilization facilities from operating in Illinois unless they capture 100 percent of all ethylene oxide emissions within the facility and reduce ambient ethylene oxide emissions to 0.2 parts per million.

"To be clear, nothing within the consent order guarantees that the Willowbrook facility will reopen in the immediate future – or that it will reopen at all," Raoul and Berlin said in their release.

Raoul and Berlin also said the new requirements allow the company to emit just 85 pounds of ethylene oxide per year, a sharp decrease from previous permits issued by the IEPA that allowed the company's high level of emissions. From 2006 to 2018, Sterigenics was permitted to emit 2,840 pounds to 7,340 pounds per year, depending on the year, the news release said.

While Raoul's office noted the process for Sterigenics to reopen could take several months, representatives of Sterigenics said in a release the company "has always operated safely" and "will continue to work to complete the permitting process."

"During today's proceedings, the court noted that the state has acknowledged that there is no uncertainty that Sterigenics has operated in compliance with federal standards regarding its ethylene oxide (EO) emissions," the statement read. "Further, the state indicated in its briefing that compliance with the consent order and the new Illinois law regarding EO sterilization 'will ensure that [EO] emissions from the [Willowbrook] site are negligible and not a public health hazard.'"

Sterigenics also called attention to the fact that the legal agreement resolves all litigation between the company and the state "with no finding of liability or fault against either side and with no imposition of penalties."

On Sept. 6, Emily Bittner, Pritzker's deputy chief of staff for communications, said the governor "is pleased" Durkin is "proposing a solution to strengthen" the original legislation, and said it could become a topic for discussion during the fall veto session in October and November. 

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