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Sterigenics May Reopen After Court Agreement To Drastically Reduce Emissions

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Sterigenics may reopen following a circuit court agreement reached Friday.

The medical sterilization plant in Willowbrook has been closed since February after air quality tests by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency found high levels of ETO, or ethylene oxide, a chemical linked to some types of cancer.

The circuit court agreement reached Friday to reopen the plant comes with several big "ifs."

From 2006 to 2019 Sterigenics reported annual emissions of ETO as high as 7,340 pounds per year.

The plant will only be allowed to resume operations with new equipment that would drastically reduce emissions to no more than 85 pounds per year.

Critics say no amount is safe.

"We are not defeated," said Margie Donnell with Stop Sterigenics. "We are going to continue to fight. We will try to get the construction permit denied. We will continue to fight until Sterigenics is gone because these people, all the victims that we have lost and all the victims that are suffering today, deserve better, and they deserve a voice."

Several people are suing Sterigenics, claiming their cancers were caused by ETO emissions.

In a statement Sterigenics insists it will work with the state to ensure safety.

"Sterigenics, a leading provider of mission-critical sterilization services, today commented on the DuPage County Court's approval of the Consent Order that had previously been agreed to by the State of Illinois (represented by the Illinois Attorney General and the DuPage County State's Attorney), the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, and the company. Court approval of this agreement resolves all current litigation between the State of Illinois and its representative agencies and Sterigenics, with no finding of liability or fault against either side and with no imposition of penalties.

During today's proceedings, the Court noted that the State has acknowledged that there is no uncertainty that Sterigenics has operated in compliance with federal standards regarding its ethylene oxide (EO) emissions.  Further, the State indicated in its briefing that compliance with the Consent Order and the new Illinois law regarding EO sterilization "will ensure that [EO] emissions from the [Willowbrook] Site are negligible and not a public health hazard."

Sterigenics has always operated safely, and we are pleased that the State has acknowledged the safety of these new controls.  The company will continue to work to complete the permitting process regarding the enhancements detailed in the Consent Order."

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