Illinois EPA Issues Construction Permit To Sterigenics, Opponents Continue To Fight

Bernie Tafoya
September 24, 2019 - 10:04 am

photo provided


CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- Opponents promise to continue their fight to keep Sterigenics closed despite the latest move by the State of Illinois that puts the company one step closer to re-opening.

The Illinois EPA has issued a construction permit to Sterigenics. State officials said the permit is the "first step in a lengthy process" and allows the company to begin construction necessary to ensure the facility complies with a strict new state emissions law that requires demonstrating 100 percent capture of all cancer-causing ethylene-oxide (EtO) emissions.

“The Illinois EPA is committed to protecting the health and safety of Illinois communities to the strongest extent possible under state and federal laws,” said Illinois EPA Director John Kim, in a statement. “This construction permit is a direct result of legislation passed by the General Assembly and will allow Sterigenics to attempt to bring the facility in line with the nation’s strongest emissions control law. This is the first step in a lengthy process, and only following strict testing and monitoring requirements would the facility be permitted to operate. As we move forward, the Illinois EPA will continue to provide technical guidance to legislators as they draft further legislation to strengthen their initial law.”

The construction permit allows sterigenics, to make significant emissions control changes "only to the Willowbrook I facility and ensures the company will not operate prior to installing these new controls and demonstrating the ability to meet the new limits established in the permit," according to the Illinois EPA. Required improvements include "installing a permanent total enclosure, capturing all ethylene oxide emissions from Willowbrook I, and installing additional air pollution controls to reduce emissions by 99.9 percent or to 0.2 parts per million. In addition, the permit goes beyond the requirements of the Matt Haller Act by limiting annual ethylene oxide emissions from the facility to just 85 pounds. In conjunction with the permit, Illinois EPA is also issuing, pursuant to the Act, a certification that the facility’s emission control system uses technology that produces the greatest reduction in ethylene oxide emissions currently available."

The permit issued by the Illinois EPA follows action by the Pritzker Administration. After passage of the Matt Haller Act by the General Assembly, the State of Illinois and DuPage County State’s Attorney reached a consent order to ensure the toughest requirements of the new Act, as well as additional controls, would be applicable to Sterigenics’ operations in Willowbrook.

Sterigenics is prohibited from using ethylene oxide at Willowbrook I until the facility complies with the new law, the consent order, and the construction permit.

But Lauren Kaeseberg and others involved in Stop Sterigenics plan to continue their fight to keep the medical equipment sterilization company from re-opening.

“We’re not stopping. We’re tired. It’s been a year. It’s been a really long year, but it only makes us dig in even harder, because we’ve fought this hard, we’ve gone too far to quit now and we’re not going to stop," Kaeseberg said.

Kaeseberg and others support two legislative proposals that would, in effect, keep Sterigenics from resuming operations in Willowbrook, as well as stop operations at a couple of companies that emit ethylene-oxide in north suburban Lake County.

She said the Illinois EPA did Sterigenics’ work for it by refining the sterilization company’s permit request using ideas submitted by the public. She said the EPA should have rejected Sterigenics permit request and sent Sterigenics back to work on a new request, thus re-starting the clock another 90 days.

“They really used that public comment period, instead of a shield to protect us, they used it as a sword against our community,” Kaeseberg said.

Prior to permit approval, the Illinois EPA took written comments on the draft permit for 30 days and held a public meeting on August 1, 2019 to afford concerned citizens an opportunity to provide oral comments. After careful review and consideration of over 500 comments, the Illinois EPA made numerous changes to the draft permit.

Sterigenics has been hit with dozens of lawsuits, with residents claiming that the ethylene oxide emissions from Sterigenics caused their cancer or that of their loved ones.