Sterigenics to reopen suburban plant after agreeing to limit release of cancerous gas

WILLOWBROOK, Ill. (Sun-Times Media Wire) -- Sterigenics will reopen its west suburban facility after agreeing with the state to install additional equipment to capture cancer-causing gases.

The company’s Willowbrook facility, which sterilizes medical equipment, was shut down by the EPA in February after spikes of the cancer-causing gas ethylene oxide were recorded in the surrounding neighborhood.

A draft agreement with the state requires Sterigenics to install additional emission-capture equipment and to spend $300,000 in community projects designed to benefit the environment, the company said in a statement. The agreement also resolves a lawsuit filed by the state against Sterigenics, with no finding of fault and no imposition of fines.

The state will require Sterigenics to limit emissions of its facility to 85 pounds of ethylene oxide per year, down from 2,890 pounds released during 2017, the Chicago Tribune reported. Gas emissions will be monitored continuously, according to the agreement.

The plant will reopen after the emission-capture equipment is installed and the Illinois EPA gives its approval.

“We are pleased to have reached this agreement, which creates a path for our Willowbrook facility to resume its safe operation,” Sterigenics president Philip Macnabb said in the statement.

The U.S. EPA reported that toxic pollution from Sterigenics’ plant last summer was responsible for long-term cancer risks up to 10 times higher than EPA standards, the Tribune reported. Cancer risks remained high even after the company voluntarily improved its facility to capture all but one-tenth of 1% of ethylene oxide.

EPA officials in May said pollution from Sterigenics increased the risk of developing cancer for people living as far as 25 miles away, the Tribune reported. The largest risk was for residents of six surrounding suburbs: Willowbrook, Darien, Burr Ridge, Hinsdale, Indian Head Park and Western Springs.

Ethylene oxide has been considered cancerous since 1985, but a new evaluation of the chemical by the EPA in 2016 found it was much more dangerous than previously thought.