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Hinsdale, Illinois |

Published April 18, 2019

Sterigenics-inspired bills moving forward

By Ken Knutson

   The Illinois Senate unanimously passed two pieces of legislation April 10 in response to concerns over emissions from the shuttered Sterigenics facility in Willowbrook suspected of being linked to cancer.
   Senate Bill 1852 requires facilities to notify all affected property owners and local governments located within 2,500 feet when an ethylene oxide leak occurs. Senate Bill 1854 prohibits facilities from having accidental unfiltered emissions of ethylene oxide above zero and requires regular, unannounced inspections by a government-selected third party to ensure that no accidental emissions of ethylene oxide exist.    Each facility would also be subject to ambient air testing at its perimeters, conducted at random once every 90 to 120 days for a duration of 24-hour samples of no fewer than six consecutive days.
   Both measures have been sent to the Illinois House for consideration. Additionally, Senate Bill 1853, which is still working its way through the upper chamber, directs the Illinois EPA to reevaluate the current Clean Air Act Permit Program permits of any facility emitting ethylene oxide and conduct a 90-day public hearing process on such permits. A facility emitting ethylene oxide at levels higher than federal or state standards must cease operations until emissions are reduced.
   State Sen. Suzy Glowiak (D-24, Western Springs), who represents Hinsdale and is a co-sponsor of the measure with chief sponsor state Sen. John Curran (R-41, Downers Grove), said the proposed regulations are an important step to protect the public.
   “This bipartisan legislation will guarantee local residents are not only safe from this cancer-causing chemical, but also ensure they’re informed and have the opportunity to share their concerns,” Glowiak said.
   The Sterigenics facility was shut down by the IEPA on Feb. 15 after air quality studies found elevated levels of ethylene oxide, used by the firm in its process to sterilize medical equipment. In December 2016, the EPA Integrated Risk Information System changed its standards for ethylene oxide emissions, revising the descriptor from “probably carcinogenic to humans” to “carcinogenic to humans” and indicating a 30-fold increase in cancer potency.
   Curran stressed the greater control officials would have if the bills become law.
“This legislation would allow regulators to stop ethylene oxide emissions and shut down facilities that release the dangerous gas,” he said.
   A study released by the Illinois Department of Public Health last month showed cancer rates are higher in people living near Sterigenics. The study found more cases of breast cancer and Hodgkin’s lymphoma in women living near the facility. Prostate, pancreatic and ovarian cancers were also higher than in other parts of the county as were reports of lymphoma in children.
   Glowiak said the findings underscore the need for action.
   “These alarming statistics reinforce our concerns about Sterigenics being located in a densely populated area,” Glowiak said. “We cannot risk reopening this facility and putting more people living in the area at risk.”
   On Feb. 19 Hinsdale trustees voted to join a lawsuit against Sterigenics that had been filed by the Illinois Attorney General and the DuPage County State’s Attorney last fall. The village also plans conduct its own air testing, in conjunction with Hinsdale Township High School District, if the plant reopens.
   Sterigenics has denied violating regulations on emissions of ethylene oxide and filed a temporary restraining order to be able to reopen. The motion was denied.
Glowiak praised the people of Willowbrook for pressing for stronger oversight of Sterigenics.
   “The residents of Willowbrook have been courageous advocates in the fight to protect all of us in DuPage County,” she said.
Bills 1852 and 1854 have been sent to the House Rules committee, while 1853 has been referred to the Senate Assignments committee.

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