socastcmsRssStartBy Brett Rowland | Illinois News NetworksocastcmsRssEnd
The DuPage County State’s Attorney and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Sterigenics U.S. LLC over the use of a carcinogenic chemical at the company’s Willowbrook plant.
“We are alleging that since at least 2006, through July of this year, the defendant, Sterigenics U.S., LLC, allowed the release of ethylene oxide gas into the atmosphere dangerously close to a densely populated residential area with nearly 20,000 people living within one mile of the alleged release," DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin said in a statement. "The issue of clean air is not negotiable."
The company said it followed regulations.
"Sterigenics is disappointed that the Illinois Attorney General has chosen to assert ‘air pollution’ and ‘public nuisance’ claims against the company’s Willowbrook facility. The lawsuit filed today expressly recognizes that Sterigenics has operated, and continues to operate, well within the limits of its permit and the regulations," the company said in a statement. "Any action brought against a business operating well within regulatory limits sets an extremely bad precedent."
The company also said "any disruption to the operations of the Sterigenics Willowbrook facility would seriously undermine the ability to proceed with scheduled surgeries and procedures and would put patients’ lives at risk."
Berlin joined Madigan in asking state lawmakers to address the use of ethylene oxide in Illinois.
The lawsuit alleges one count of causing, threatening or allowing air pollution and one count of maintaining a common law public nuisance. It alleges Sterigenics poses a public health threat and seeks to ban all ethylene oxide emissions if the court finds there’s no safe level of the chemical.
The lawsuit comes a week before the midterm general election, where Gov. Bruce Rauner, a private equity investor whose former firm owned an of interest in Sterigenics, is seeking re-election. Rauner said his administration referred the issue to Madigan’s office through the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.
“We sought the order out of an abundance of caution for the health and safety of area residents and asked that the company pause operations until U.S. EPA provides clarity on the health risks of ethylene oxide emissions," Rauner said in a statement. "After many discussions and collaboration, the Attorney General moved on our referral. It is the right thing to do.”
Sterigenics provides sterilization services for a variety of industries, including the medical device industry.
State Sen. John Curran, R-Woodridge, urged the legislature to take up a bill he filed Sept. 5 that would reopen Sterigenics’ existing air permit for another public comment period and hearing at the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. Curran has also filed a bill that would immediately prohibit all non-medical uses of ethylene oxide while moving toward a complete ban in Illinois by 2022, according to a news release.
“While today’s action has taken longer than I would have liked, I am thankful for the thoroughness and support provided by the Illinois Attorney General and DuPage County State’s Attorney,” Curran said in a statement. “It is clear in reading their release that if we’re going to adequately address this issue, and bring peace of mind to the residents in Willowbrook and surrounding communities, then the Illinois Legislature is going to have to act. And we must act now.”
In a December 2016 report, the Environmental Protection Agency classified ethylene oxide as a known human carcinogen. In August 2018, the agency released the 2014 National Air Toxics Assessment, which found Willowbrook was exposed to unsafe levels of ethylene oxide.
Ethylene oxide can increase the risk of developing lymphoma and leukemia, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Full statement from Sterigenics:
Sterigenics is disappointed that the Illinois Attorney General has chosen to assert “air pollution” and “public nuisance” claims against the company’s Willowbrook facility. The lawsuit filed today expressly recognizes that Sterigenics has operated, and continues to operate, well within the limits of its permit and the regulations. Any action brought against a business operating well within regulatory limits sets an extremely bad precedent.
The sterilization process that we operate is the only one approved by the Food and Drug Administration for sterilizing many vital medical instruments, devices and surgical kits, necessary for surgeries and other health care procedures. As such, any disruption to the operations of the Sterigenics Willowbrook facility would seriously undermine the ability to proceed with scheduled surgeries and procedures and would put patients’ lives at risk.
By properly controlling emissions and preventing life-threatening infection, the Willowbrook facility serves to improve public health every day. We will work with public officials to achieve the appropriate limits to allay the concerns of the community and the regulatory agencies. However, we will vigorously defend ourselves against this lawsuit.