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Tempers Flare As Illinois EPA Holds Public Meeting On Sterigenics

WILLOWBROOK, Ill. (CBS) -- There were fireworks at a hearing in Willowbrook Thursday evening, as opponents of the west suburb's Sterigenics plant got a chance to speak against the plant's possible reopening.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency called the meeting as an opportunity for the public to comment and voice concerns about Sterigenics and its medical sterilization plant.

As CBS 2's Charlie De Mar reported, Sterigenics recently struck a deal with the state to re-open under tighter environmental guidelines. But residents, and especially those grieving, say there are no acceptable levels of ethylene oxide.

At the hearing, the loudest voice in the room was that of Colleen Haller.

"I am a wife and I'm the widow of Matt Haller. Sixteen months, I watched my husband slowly die from stomach cancer," she said.

Matt Haller died in March at the age of 45. CBS 2 Investigator Dave Savini was there as Haller battled the disease.

"The barrel is empty and there's not much left, but I'm going to fight. I'm going to fight and I'm going to fight," he said.

Now wife Colleen Haller is fighting for him.

By her side were hundreds of Willowbrook residents rallying to see Sterigenics gone for good. Some protested outside before the hearing, chanting, "Shut them down!" and, "It must go!" as they held signs.

Among them was Katherine Howard, whom the 2 Investigators also profiled during this ongoing struggle.

"I don't want anybody else to spend 17 hours today hooked up to a feeding tube like I have to be," she said. "I don't want anybody else to die from cancer like Matt Haller."

"There are images I can never get out of your head, and that is watching your spouse take their last breath because of this company, Sterigenics," Colleen Haller said.

Many exchanges between the EPA and residents were heated and reached the point of raised voices.

LIVE NOW: Charlie De Mar is at a rally of Willowbrook residents ahead of a public meeting in front of the Illinois EPA. The residents are opposed to Sterigenics.

Posted by CBS Chicago on Thursday, August 1, 2019

Sterigenics was partially shut down in February, after the EPA found the company released high levels of ethylene oxide, a cancer-causing chemical.

A consent order filed by the Illinois Attorney General's Office and the DuPage County State's Attorney's Office would allow the plant to reopen if it meets strict new requirements regarding ethylene oxide emissions.

An order keeping the ethylene oxide operation shut down will remain in place for at least 30 days to allow the courts to review public comments on the deal.

The proposed agreement would allow Sterigenics to again use the chemical at its plant, but the company would first have to create new systems to capture the ethylene oxide gas. The Illinois EPA would have to approve that system with a construction permit.

The Illinois EPA will take all of the public comments that were issued Thursday night into consideration on whether or not to grant that construction permit.

Also, Sterigenics would have to eliminate all emissions - no level of gas would be tolerated.

The CBS 2 Investigators since January have exposed calls by federal lawmakers for criminal and civil investigations.

Sterigenics also has to put up $300,000 to fund environmental improvement projects. There are no other fines or penalties.

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A judge still has to sign off on the consent order.

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