Sterigenics is closing its Willowbrook, Ill., plant following backlash for emitting a cancer-causing pollutant.
The Oak Brook, Ill.-based company, which sterilizes medical tools and lab equipment using ethylene oxide, announced today it couldn't reach an agreement to renew its lease in the west suburban village.
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency in February prohibited Sterigenics from using the chemical process, effectively shutting down the plant. The agency later said Sterigenics could reopen the facility if it installed equipment to reduce ethylene oxide emissions.
"Unfortunately, inaccurate and unfounded claims regarding Sterigenics and the unstable legislative and regulatory landscape in Illinois have created an environment in which it is not prudent to maintain these critical sterilization operations in Willowbrook," Sterigenics said in a statement.
Sterilization facilities say alternative methods, including hydrogen peroxide, steam and gamma radiation, are not compatible with certain medical products like surgical gowns.
Sterigenics said in the statement it will continue to implement new measures at its other sterilization facilities and set a new standard for ethylene oxide emissions.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last year investigated the relationship between ethylene oxide emissions from Sterigenics and high cancer risks in the surrounding area. The chemical has been classified by the agency as a human carcinogen since 2016.
"Sterigenics got the message that we were never going to let them reopen their doors and poison our communities again," Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin said in a statement today.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker in June signed two bills that put additional pressure on companies using ethylene oxide, requiring facilities to capture 100 percent of all emissions within the plant and also reduce emissions to the atmosphere by 99.9 percent.
"Sterigenics' decision today represents a significant development, demonstrating that Illinoisans will come together to protect the health and wellbeing of all our residents—which has been my goal from the beginning," Pritzker said in a statement. "From shutting down their operations in February to enacting the nation's strongest law regulating ethylene oxide, we sent a clear, unified message that we will take all possible steps to protect residents' health."
Northfield, Ill.-based Medline, which manufactures and sterilizes medical products, said earlier this year it's spending "several million dollars" to install abatement technology to further reduce ethylene oxide admissions at its Waukegan plant.