SPRINGFIELD — A DuPage County judge ruled Friday that the Willowbrook-based Sterigenics facility will potentially be able to reopen.
Attorney General Kwame Y. Raoul and DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin released a joint statement on the matter Friday, saying the consent order entered by DuPage County Circuit Judge Paul M. Fullerton mirrors and goes “even further” than a new law passed by the General Assembly in the spring.
“The consent order gives our offices the tools to act quickly to protect the community and hold Sterigenics accountable for any future violations of Illinois’ new ethylene oxide restrictions or other state environmental laws,” they said in a statement.
Sterigenics is a commercial sterilization company that uses ethylene oxide — a colorless gas used as a pesticide and for sterilizing medical equipment. According to the National Cancer Institute, ethylene oxide can cause cancer if inhaled.
The southwest suburban company came under fire in August 2018 after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said in a report that neighborhoods around the Willowbrook plant are among a few dozen around the country that face increased cancer risks from an excess amount of the gas in the air.
The plant was closed the following February after a test found the gas emissions near the plant.
Lawmakers passed a measure this spring that imposes more limitations on the gas.
The measure prohibits the renewal of any permits for facilities that violate federal or state standards for ethylene oxide emissions. It also prohibits new facilities from using ethylene oxide within 10 miles of a school or park in counties with more than 50,000 people and sets a 15-mile radius for counties with less than 50,000 people.
The consent order does not, however, guarantee that the Willowbrook facility will open in the immediate future. Sterigenics is prohibited from resuming operations until it constructs new emissions control systems that have been reviewed and approved by the state EPA.
“Our offices are duty bound to enforce state laws as written and passed by the General Assembly,” Raoul and Berlin said. “The new law signed this summer — while containing landmark restrictions of ethylene oxide emissions — allows any facility in compliance with the law to operate in the state of Illinois.”
In response to the court’s decision, Illinois House Republican Leader James B. Durkin of Western Springs introduced new legislation to give local municipalities the authority to ban the use of ethylene oxide in their communities.
“Sterigenics continues to prove they cannot be trusted and have no place in our region,” Durkin said in a statement. “If the Illinois EPA continues moving forward in issuing permits, then we must do everything we can to empower our local municipalities in their fight to keep Sterigenics closed for good.”
House Bill 3885 will authorize municipalities to implement a ban on the use of ethylene oxide within their boundaries. If a local municipality chooses to go forward with the ban any companies dealing with sterilization would be prohibited from using ethylene oxide.
This bill, according to Durkin, has the support of Willowbrook village officials.
Patrick A. Salvi II, partner at Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard P.C. — which is representing clients suing the company over illnesses — said the firm will continue to fight to hold Sterigenics accountable.
“Preventing those in the area from being exposed to this DNA-mutating, cancer-causing chemical was not enough for Sterigenics to limit its toxic emissions,” Salvi said. “Only once their bottom line was threatened did they seek negotiations to reopen their business.”
A representative from Sterigenics could not be reached for comment.