Officials, Willowbrook Residents Celebrate Signing Of 'Matt Haller Act' To Keep Sterigenics From Reopening

Bernie Tafoya
June 24, 2019 - 2:06 pm

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- State and local officials and people in Willowbrook are celebrating the signing into law of a measure they hope will keep a medical equipment sterilization company from re-opening. 

It’s called the Matt Haller Act, named after a Willowbrook man who died of cancer this year after being an outspoken critic of Sterigenics and its emitting into the air of cancer-causing ethylene oxide. 

His widow, Colleen Haller said her husband should have been alive to celebrate the new law.

"Now we continue our fight. We will not back down and no other families need to suffer. Let’s make sure Sterigenics never opens their doors again," she said.

Matt Haller's brother, Wally, said that before Haller died, he leaned over to him and said, "when people watch my story, and then came forward and told their stories, I really felt that my life has had a sense of purpose and accomplishment."

State House Republican Leader Jim Durkin said he hopes the new law has the effect of making it harder for Sterigenics to re-open its medical equipment sterilization facility in Willowbrook.

"I can’t pass legislation to say that you’re shut down, but the fact is we can do something else. We can say that if you’re going to operate in the state of Illinois, or across the street, you’re going to have to jump through a lot of hoops."

Governor JB Pritzker signed the bill into law on Friday.

Willowbrook Mayor Frank Trilla said there’s a good chance the state law will keep Sterigenics from re-opening in Willowbrook, "and, if it doesn’t, we’ve got belts and suspenders coming right behind the local level. There’s all types of ordinances we’re looking at right now."

State Sen. John Curran said the Matt Haller Act is a "model" law that is "the toughest regulatory standards in the nation regarding ethylene oxide.

"For decades, we have had lacking standards, weak standards here in the state around ethylene oxide that have allowed Sterigenics to pollute a carcinogen into the air in this community. Through this legislation, we say no more."

Sri Rao of the group Stop Sterigenics said the fight is not over. 

"This bill isn’t a period. It’s a comma. It’s a stopping point along the way. This fight will not be over until Sterigenics, the moving trucks pull up and they leave permanently," he said.

His message to Sterigenics is, "Get out. Leave. Don’t come back. We don’t want you here and we’re not going to stop until you’re gone forever."

State Rep. Deeanne Mazzochi said the health and safety of families in Illinois "is absolutely crucial."

She said that not only does the new law provide accountability on the side of companies that deal with ethylene oxide, "there's also accountability on the Illinois EPA, as well."

"No longer can the Illinois EPA sit idly by and to allow some of these pollutants to go unnoticed. The Illinois EPA now has to identify them, track them and we can use that data so that we can have better public policy in the future," Mazzochi said.

Sterigenics responded in a statement stating, "Sterigenics takes very seriously our responsibility for the control and related emissions of ethylene oxide (EO). We have complied with and outperformed the requirements set forth by existing state and federal regulations and will continue to do so going forward.

"As previously disclosed, Sterigenics has been recommending potential emission control improvement options to regulators for several months, the implementation of which would further enhance the control measures at our Willowbrook facility. We believe these measures will not only enable us to comply with the new Illinois law related to EO sterilization facilities, but will also establish our Willowbrook facility as the strongest emission control environment for EO sterilization in the country and provide further reassurance to the public.

"Sterigenics is committed to the safety of our employees, the communities we operate in and the patients we serve and will continue to work with regulators, legislators and Illinois public officials to evolve regulations and continuously improve our operations in the ongoing interest of public safety."

The new law:

  • Forbids companies that produce ethylene oxide from opening within 10 miles of a school or park in counties with more than 50,000 residents or within 15 miles in counties that have less than 50,000 residents
  • Prohibits renewal of any permits for facilities that violate federal or state standards for ethylene oxide emissions
  • Prohibits use of EtO by any facility that has had egregious violations requiring a seal order