Capitol - Your Illinois News Radar » *** UPDATED x1 - Sterigenics responds *** AG Madigan, DuPage state’s attorney file lawsuit to shut down or limit Sterigenics
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*** UPDATED x1 - Sterigenics responds *** AG Madigan, DuPage state’s attorney file lawsuit to shut down or limit Sterigenics

Tuesday, Oct 30, 2018 - Posted by Rich Miller

* Tribune

The cancer-causing gas released by Sterigenics in west suburban Willowbrook is so dangerous the company is violating state laws intended to protect Illinoisans from harmful pollution, according to a bipartisan lawsuit filed Tuesday.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan, a Democrat who isn’t running for re-election, and Robert Berlin, the Republican state’s attorney of DuPage County, urged a state court to either shut down Sterigenics or enforce more stringent limits on its emissions of ethylene oxide, a toxic chemical that increases the long-term risks of breast cancer and lymphomas at extremely low levels.

By filing their complaint at the state level, Madigan and Berlin sidestepped federal regulations that haven’t been updated to reflect the chemical’s long-studied dangers. They also increased the legal and political pressure on a company owned in part by a private equity firm co-founded by Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican on the Nov. 6 ballot who initially downplayed the pollution problems before joining officials from both political parties calling for Sterigenics to shut down its local operations.

The 21-page lawsuit, filed in DuPage County Circuit Court, provides new details about how Sterigenics uses ethylene oxide to sterilize medical instruments, pharmaceutical drugs and food. While annual emissions from the Willowbrook facility generally have declined during the past 25 years, company-provided records cited in the complaint show it released more than 254,000 pounds of the chemical into surrounding neighborhoods between 1993 and 2017.

* The lawsuit (click here) quotes the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry on July 26

These elevated risks present a public health hazard to these populations.

* Gov. Rauner a month later

“This is not an emergency, this is not a public health immediate crisis, this is something we’re managing”

Rauner’s IEPA then punted to the attorney general.

The lawsuit is filed on some pretty broad grounds, including “creating a public nuisance.” We’ll see how it works out, but at least somebody is doing something.

…Adding… Sen. Curran…

State Sen. John Curran (R-41st District) is commending the Illinois Attorney General and the DuPage County State’s Attorney for filing a lawsuit against Sterigenics, which will provide temporary relief for area residents concerned about the release of ethylene oxide into their communities. At the same time, Curran is reiterating his call for the Illinois Senate to advance his legislation that addresses this critical public health issue.

“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,” said Curran. “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 their release announcing the lawsuit, the Attorney General and DuPage County State’s Attorney “called on the Illinois General Assembly to address the public health impacts from the use of ethylene oxide.”

Curran, the only member of the Senate to introduce legislation addressing this issue, filed Senate Bill 3630 on Sept. 5th, which would reopen Sterigenics’ current air permit for an additional public comment period and hearing process at the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA). He’s also introduced Senate Bill 3640, which would immediately prohibit all non-medical uses of ethylene oxide while moving toward a complete ban throughout Illinois by 2022.

“I want to reiterate my call that Senate President John Cullerton advance the legislation I introduced in the Senate so we can bring peace of mind to those being adversely impacted,” said Curran. “I also look forward to working with the Attorney General and DuPage County State’s Attorney on advancing my legislation, and welcome their continued support and expertise to ensure the measure’s success.”

*** UPDATE *** 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.


  1. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Oct 30, 18 @ 1:41 pm:

    Unlike the Adams County SA, Berlin is doing his job.

  2. - Earnest - Tuesday, Oct 30, 18 @ 2:03 pm:

    >Attorney General Lisa Madigan, a Democrat who isn’t running for re-election, and Robert Berlin, the Republican state’s attorney of DuPage County,

    School funding reform, the tax increase, state budgets, now this–Rauner has definitely inspired some bipartisan efforts during his first term.

  3. - Trapped in the 'burbs - Tuesday, Oct 30, 18 @ 2:06 pm:

    Exactly who is standing with Rauner these days?

  4. - El Conquistador - Tuesday, Oct 30, 18 @ 2:10 pm:

    Epic Rauner fail.

  5. - Moby - Tuesday, Oct 30, 18 @ 2:12 pm:

    Knowingly poisoning thousands of Illinois residents for a profit kind of makes all the toilet talk seem kind of silly now, doesn’t it? Disgusting.

  6. - Cubs in '16 - Tuesday, Oct 30, 18 @ 2:14 pm:

    ===Exactly who is standing with Rauner these days?===

    There’s one we know of.

    ===- wordslinger - Tuesday, Oct 30, 18 @ 1:41 pm:

    Unlike the Adams County SA===

  7. - Cubs in '16 - Tuesday, Oct 30, 18 @ 2:16 pm:

    Oh, and Michael Winter. That’s two.

  8. - Stumpy's bunker - Tuesday, Oct 30, 18 @ 2:53 pm:

    The governor is finding that the masses are catching on to Raunerspeak. He’s told us the situation is not a public health crisis, and that it’s being “monitored” and “managed”.

    By any measure, 9 X the national cancer rate is a public health crisis.

    Sorry to inconvenience your profits.

  9. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Oct 30, 18 @ 3:01 pm:

    Unrelated trivia, but the other day I saw a joint “Vote for Durkin and Curran” outdoor on the Ike near 1st Avenue.

    Pretty far from their districts, odd placement.

  10. - Barrington - Tuesday, Oct 30, 18 @ 3:02 pm:

    Great to have some action started.

  11. - The Dude Abides - Tuesday, Oct 30, 18 @ 3:08 pm:

    One week before the election and yet another reminder of whose side the Governor is on. It’s not the folks who live in that area who breathe that air.

  12. - Anon221 - Tuesday, Oct 30, 18 @ 3:09 pm:

    Rauner just tweeted…

    “Pleased to see IL Attorney General is moving on our request to seek an order for temporary shutdown of Sterigenics. Out of an abundance of caution, the company should pause operations until US EPA provides clarity on the health risks of EtO emissions. It’s the right thing to do.”

    Now it’s the “right thing to do”??? Of course… I forgot… NOW he’s not in charge.

  13. - I'm your huckleberry - Tuesday, Oct 30, 18 @ 4:23 pm:

    Ethylene Oxide is used in manufacturing other products, and it is also present in car emissions. The ATSDR Tox Profile for EO states that “significant amounts of ethylene oxide are probably released annually into the atmosphere from automobile exhaust”. What is the baseline reading for a metro region with manufacturing and a highway infrastructure compared to this site?

  14. - JS Mill - Tuesday, Oct 30, 18 @ 4:33 pm:

    =What is the baseline reading for a metro region with manufacturing and a highway infrastructure compared to this site?=

    Maybe you should have a look at the map huckleberry. 400 times the cancer rate.

    Maybe if you had family that were impacted you wouldn’t be so cavalier.

    Also, use the Google and do your own research.

  15. - TominChicago - Tuesday, Oct 30, 18 @ 5:06 pm:

    Shorter Sterigenics’ response: To save some people, we have to kill other people.

  16. - 21st State - Tuesday, Oct 30, 18 @ 5:16 pm:

    about to teach my law class re legislation and went to to look up the two bills cited to talk about tonight… but neither appear under the Bill numbers listed! maybe I’m just too distant from my staffer days to track this better, but would love to have them up on the screen for reference as we talk all this incredible transpiration of information and events through — thanks for the link to the lawsuit Rich!

  17. - I'm your huckleberry - Tuesday, Oct 30, 18 @ 5:21 pm:

    = Maybe you should have a look at the map huckleberry. 400 times the cancer rate.

    Maybe if you had family that were impacted you wouldn’t be so cavalier.

    Also, use the Google and do your own research.=

    Whoa JS Mill, put your guns away. I am looking at the map and the 26 test locations in commercial and residential areas around this facility. (I used google to find the report, thanks for the suggestion)

    I don’t see test locations outside of this location to determine a control or information on exposure for other communities.

    It is horrible what is happening to this community and the affected area.

  18. - Huh? - Tuesday, Oct 30, 18 @ 5:45 pm:

    And the huckleberry didn’t stand a chance against JS Mill. Huck - better rethink that handle and pick something else. ’cause if you you’re not better on the draw, may as well hang up the belt.

    BTW - Doc Holiday won that fight. And you ain’t no Doc Holiday.

  19. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Oct 30, 18 @ 6:42 pm:

    I’m sure that this is the only chemical that can sterilize surgical equipment and all surgeries will come to a halt. Chicken little much?

  20. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Oct 30, 18 @ 7:33 pm:

    The Sterigenics trolls at work here make Lucky Pierre seem like Socrates. In the rationality and logic senses, I mean.

  21. - cc - Tuesday, Oct 30, 18 @ 7:38 pm:

    1894 first thought of digging Love Canal.
    2004 Feds consider Super cleanup done.

  22. - Cadillac - Tuesday, Oct 30, 18 @ 8:28 pm:

    Why does the AG of Illinois have to rely on state paid expert witnesses?

  23. - Stuntman Bob's Brother - Tuesday, Oct 30, 18 @ 9:00 pm:

    Who is the “greater offender” here, Sterigenics, or the governmental body(s) that permitted and monitors their operation?

    This lawsuit needs to be urgently expedited, there’s going to be a lot of scientific review necessary, and based on the results, emission laws changed. IMHO, unless Sterigenics is absolutely certain that the science backing the cancer risk allegations is incorrect, they should voluntarily cease Willowbrook operations, and either re-locate to a more remote location and/or install emission-elimination equipment (some kind of filtering or incineration device on their process exhausts, if feasible).

    For someone knowledgeable, is ethylene oxide “necessary”, or simply “cheaper” than alternatives like autoclaving for sterilization? And where is the Federal EPA on this? Sterigenics can’t be the only company out there using this process.

  24. - M - Tuesday, Oct 30, 18 @ 11:42 pm:

    == Why does the AG of Illinois have to rely on state paid expert witnesses? ==

    Why? Because she is not an expert on chemicals and EPA issues.

  25. - Anon - Wednesday, Oct 31, 18 @ 8:39 am:

    == For someone knowledgeable, is ethylene oxide “necessary”

    It is necessary. It’s a process to sterilize things that cannot be heated basically. So stents, catheters and electronic implants. Some pretty important stuff actually. It’s common and in use throughout the USA. What I don’t get, is why they don’t recapture and reuse the gas? Seems like that would be more cost effective for them. The process is like this…

    1) put in device what you are sterilizing
    2) flood with gas
    3) evacuate gas
    4) repeatedly flood and evacuate air to remove residual gas from sterilized gear

    My guess is the “air rinse” is what is being vented as it would be nearly impossible to recover Ethox from that process. But someone must have a catalyst to capture it. That’s above my science knowledge though.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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