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Some Relieved At Temporary Shutdown Of Waukegan Medline Plant, Others Wonder Why They Didn't Know

WAUKEGAN, Ill. (CBS) -- Some Waukegan residents were breathing a sigh of relief on Tuesday, after a nearby plant that emits a potentially cancer-causing chemical shut down – for now.

CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey spoke with the family of the Willowbrook man who whose legacy led to the move.

It has been 10 months since Walter Haller lost his little brother, Matt, to stomach cancer. Walter still keeps photos of Matt all over the house.

"It's bittersweet, obviously, in many ways," Walter Haller said. "It's not going to bring back my brother."

But Walter Haller added, "If he was here today, it would have meant the world to him."

RELATED: Families Turn Out At Waukegan City Council Meeting To Express Worries About Ethylene Oxide At Medline Plant | Testing Shows Increased Levels Of Potential Cancer-Causing Gas In Blood Of Residents Near Medline Plant | Blood Tests Show Higher Levels Of Potentially Cancer-Causing Gas In Those Who Live Near Waukegan Medline Plant

He was talking about the news from the Waukegan Medline plant which has voluntarily paused the sterilization processes that use ethylene oxide, or EtO, in order to comply with the law named after Matt Haller.

CBS 2 Investigator Dave Savini spoke with the 45-year-old Haller just a day and a half before his death in March of last year.

Matt Haller lived in Willowbrook, near another plant that used EtO - Sterigenics. He is the reason that the emissions rules were strengthened.

Hickey first shared the story of a Waukegan family on Dec. 11. The Darden family was part of a limited pilot study that found higher levels of ETO in their 11-year-old son Kobe's blood.

"I can't even wrap my mind around it, to be honest with you - the fact that we're dealing with this," said Annette Darden.

They live about a mile from Medline.

On Tuesday, we learned that on Dec. 13 -- two days after we aired the interview with Darden -- Medline shut down operations. They said it was in order to test and balance their new equipment.

But Darden's family didn't find out until Medline released a statement just Monday.

"Well, first of all, we didn't know about it," Annette Darden said. "That's the number one issue."

The Lake County Health Department said for a while, they weren't aware either.

A Medline spokesman did not say why they chose not to announce the closing publicly, telling Hickey in a statement that they had been open about their intentions for months.

Meanwhile, Haller's family is hopeful that these stricter guidelines will leaving a lasting impact long after his death.

"In the battle he was fighting, he was able to come to the conclusion that, 'Hey, I'm making a difference in this environment and these communities,'" Walter Haller said.

He added, "I would like to see that keep happening until these companies are in compliance with the regulations."

Medline is the largest private employer in Waukegan and supplies about 80 percent of Illinois hospitals with sterile surgical packs.

Medline spokesman Jesse Greenberg released the following statement:

"The voluntary pause in operations started in mid-December and we are in the final stages of testing and balancing our new equipment. We expect to start back up very soon.

"Medline has announced several times over the last few months our intentions to construct and install additional emissions abatement technology in Waukegan. We have been working closely with state regulators about our planned, temporary closure and have kept them informed throughout the installation process.

"Medline's operations team built a plan and sterilization schedule prior to our operational pause to meet our customers' needs. While the limitations to the supply of EtO sterilization are acute, given the short duration of this pause, we do not anticipate any service issues associated with this final stage of the process."

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