Judge Approves Consent Order To Allow Sterigenics Plant To Reopen

Bernie Tafoya
September 06, 2019 - 12:17 pm

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- Sterigenics has won a round in court in its bid to reopen, but the battle by residents to keep the controversial facility in Willowbrook closed continues.

A DuPage County Judge Paul Fullerton Friday approved a consent order that would allow Sterigenics to reopen, if it agrees to even stricter regulations than are called for in a recently passed state law regarding the emissions of cancer-causing ethylene oxide.

The company, which sterilizes medical equipment, was shut down in February over concerns about chemical emissions involving ethylene oxide. Under an agreement with the state, the facility was allowed to reopen after installing new emissions control systems.

The latest court ruling will also force the company to abide by stricter emissions regulations and will have to apply for permits that require the approval of state regulators.   

The consent order, while calling for Sterigenics to capture 99.9 percent of ethylene oxide by-product, would still allow 0.2 percent, or a maximum of 85 pounds a year of ethylene oxide into the air.

The consent order was between Sterigenics and the Illinois Attorney General's Office and the DuPage County State's Attorney's Office.

Lauren Kaeseberg of Stop Sterigenics expressed her group's anger over the agreement.

"It’s one thing to lose after a fair fight. It’s another thing to be sold out," Kaeseberg said. "Those lawyers up there for the State’s Attorney’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office sold us out. They sold out our community."

She called on Governor Pritzker and the Illinois EPA not to sell out the community by not approving any permits for Sterigenics.

A joint statement released by the Illinois Attorney General and the DuPage County State's Attorney reads in part, “The consent order gives our 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. 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. Under the consent order, Sterigenics’ Willowbrook facility is strictly prohibited from resuming sterilization operations until it constructs new emissions control systems that have been reviewed and approved by the Illinois EPA. The Attorney General’s office, the State’s Attorney’s office and the court will be closely monitoring each step Sterigenics takes to potentially reopen."

State Rep. Jim Durkin, one of the legislators behind the Matt Haller Act which was passed and signed into law this summer tightening restrictions on emissions of ethylene oxide, promises.
WBBM Newsradio/Bernie Tafoya

State Rep. Jim Durkin, one of the legislators behind the Matt Haller Act which was passed and signed into law this summer tightening restrictions on emissions of ethylene oxide, promises "this is not over."

"Sterigenics should not be doing a high-five," he said. "No one should be concerned that these doors are opening ‘cause this fight will continue on."

Durkin plans additional legislation that could give Willowbrook, a home rule community, the power to ban ethylene oxide within its borders. Durkin hopes the legislature will take up his proposal during the veto session at the end of October.

In the meantime, Durkin tried to stem any thoughts that Sterigenics would be powering back up any time soon.

"Because of today’s ruling, Sterigenics is not opening up their door this afternoon, tomorrow, next week, or any of the near months ahead of them. They still have a permit process that they have to go through with the Illinois EPA," he said.

State Rep. Deanne Mazzochi of Elmhurst said the court is placing a lot of trust in the Illinois EPA and its environmental expertise and that, "what the Illinois legislature is not going to tolerate is an Illinois EPA that’s going to go through a process of bureaucratic box-checking instead of actually doing their job to be a check on Sterigenics and make sure they’re doing it right keeping our people safe and if the Illinois EPA does it’s job, Sterigenics should never open."

Willowbrook Mayor Frank Trilla reacted to the news in court saying, "I’m, obviously, profoundly disappointed it’s come to this. It appears to me at this time that the US EPA and the Illinois EPA are not here to protect us."

Mayor Trilla said the whole Sterigenics controversy is costing his community. He said Willowbrook is trying to avoid "reputation blight."

"We have businesses right now that are on the fence whether they want to stay or go, that have been in our town for 30 years. We have women that will not allow their children to participate in a swim club because it’s on the same block as Sterigenics," he said.

Stop Sterigenics shirt
WBBM Newsradio/Bernie Tafoya

In court, a lawyer for Sterigenics told Judge Fullerton he should approve the consent order because "Sterigenics saves lives." The lawyer said the use of ethylene oxide was the only way to sterilize medical equipment.  

Chris Wells, a lawyer with the Illinois Attorney General's Office called the agreed to emissions levels "some of the strictest ethylene oxide emissions requirements in the nation."

Sterigenics still faces several lawsuits from residents who live around the area of the plant who say it's emissions caused their cancer or that of their family members.

Opponents of the plant's operations have also vowed to continue their fight to close it permanently.