By JERRY NOWICKI
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – Republicans and Democrats agree that new state laws will make Illinois the strictest state in the nation for imposing limitations on cancer-causing ethylene oxide emissions.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed two bills – Senate Bills 1852 and 1854 – into law Friday, June 21, with the aim of increasing safety and testing requirements at ethylene oxide sterilization facilities and other companies that use ethylene oxide.
Senate Bill 1852 passed in response to ethylene oxide leaks at Sterigenics, a medical device sterilization facility in the DuPage County suburb of Willowbrook which has since been placed under a seal order by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to prevent its operation.
In August 2018, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a federal agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, reported in a letter there was an “elevated cancer risk” for anyone who lives near or works in the facility.
On Monday, lawmakers from the area gathered in Willowbrook to celebrate the new restrictive measures.
“This new law creates the strongest ethylene oxide sterilization regulations in the nation,” said state Sen. John Curran, a Downers Grove Republican who sponsored Senate Bill 1852.
Senate Bill 1852 is known as the Matt Haller Act in honor of a 45-year-old Willowbrook resident who spoke out against Sterigenics. Haller, who passed away earlier this year from stage-four stomach cancer, lived about a mile from the Sterigenics plant.
“The tragic situation which unfolded in Willowbrook at the Sterigenics facility should have never happened. This law will help make sure that it never will again,” said House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, who sponsored the bill in the House.
Rep. Deanne Mazzochi, an Elmhurst Republican who co-sponsored the measure, credited the activism of local residents like Haller.
“This legislation would not be possible without the grassroots support of the people in our communities surrounding Sterigenics,” she said in a news release. “I want to recognize Leader Durkin, Senator Curran, the Governor's Office, and all the community members, like Matt Haller, who helped build support for this legislation.”
Senate Bill 1852 prohibits ethylene oxide sterilization facilities from operating in Illinois unless they capture 100 percent of all ethylene oxide emissions within the facility and reduce ethylene oxide emissions to 0.2 parts per million.
Facilities will also be required to conduct annual emissions tests and report results to the IEPA. If a company fails a test, it must immediately cease operations, notify the EPA within 24 hours, conduct a root cause analysis of the failure and seek IEPA approval before restarting operations.
The measure also requires the facilities to conduct quarterly air testing and to obtain construction permits from the IEPA before making modifications required to comply with the statutory emissions limits. It also prohibits new sterilization facilities from opening within 10 miles of a school or park in counties with more than 50,000 residents and 15 miles in counties with fewer than 50,000 residents.
Facilities that have previously been subject to an IEPA seal order for ethylene oxide emissions are prohibited from using the substance unless the facility can certify that it is the only available sterilization method and technology is in place to produce the greatest reduction in emissions.
“Families in affected areas can breathe easy,” Pritzker said in a release. “Illinois now has the strictest safeguards in the nation, and I appreciate the hard work of the General Assembly in developing this bipartisan legislation and bringing it to my desk.”
Senate Bill 1854 applies emission limits on non-sterilization facilities that emit ethylene oxide, requiring those facilities to obtain a permit from IEPA, which must include a site-specific cap on the facility’s ethylene oxide emissions. It also requires the IEPA to conduct unannounced inspections and air testing at least once annually.