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Sterigenics gives up battle to reopen Willowbrook facility

The medical supply sterilization company is facing lawsuits that claim there are increased cancer rates in the area due to the company’s use of the gas ethylene oxide.

Sterigenics, a medical supply sterilization company in Willowbrook, has been closed since it was barred in February from using ethylene oxide.
Sterigenics, a medical supply sterilization company in Willowbrook, has been closed since it was barred in February from using ethylene oxide.
Jerry Nowicki/Capitol News Illinois

After a lengthy battle with everyone from neighbors, to legislators, to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, Sterigenics on Monday announced it won’t seek to reopen its Willowbrook facility, citing “the unstable legislative and regulatory landscape in Illinois.”

“Sterigenics appreciates that the State of Illinois has clearly acknowledged the company’s consistent record of regulatory compliance as well as the safety of the new controls we agreed to implement, and we made every effort to reach a constructive resolution,” the company said in a statement. “Unfortunately, inaccurate and unfounded claims regarding Sterigenics and the unstable legislative and regulatory landscape in Illinois have created an environment in which it is not prudent to maintain these critical sterilization operations in Willowbrook.”

The medical supply sterilization company is facing lawsuits claiming there are increased cancer rates in the area due to the company’s use of the gas ethylene oxide. And the company has also been caught in the middle of a legislative battle over whether it should be operating in the western suburb.

The closure is a big win for Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, who has been on the forefront of fighting the company’s efforts to continue production in Willowbrook. The community group Stop Sterigenics, too, has also fought the company’s reopening at each phase.

“Sterigenics got the message that we were never going to let them reopen their doors and poison our communities again,” Durkin said in a statement.

Durkin, R-Western Springs, sponsored legislation earlier this year banning the use of ethylene oxide by any facility that has violations requiring a seal order. It also prevented sterilization facilities using the gas from opening within 10 miles of a school or park and within 15 miles of counties with fewer than 50,000 residents. Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed that measure into law.

Pritzker’s office on Monday said the decision “represents a significant development, demonstrating that Illinoisans will come together to protect the health and wellbeing of all our residents — which has been my goal from the beginning.”

“From shutting down their operations in February to enacting the nation’s strongest law regulating ethylene oxide, we sent a clear, unified message that we will take all possible steps to protect residents’ health,” the governor said in a statement.

Last week, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency approved a construction permit to install new equipment, which appeared to be leading to reopening the facility.

The decision comes as legislators discuss new measures that would phase out the chemical except in less populated areas. The measures would have also given home rule municipalities the authority to ban emissions of the gas.