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Tighter controls on toxic chemical emissions clear Illinois House

Tighter controls on toxic chemical emissions clear Illinois House

Bill comes in response to ethylene oxide leak at Sterigenics plant in Willowbrook

By LINDSEY SALVATELLI
Capitol News Illinois
lsalvatelli@capitolnewsillinois.com

SPRINGFIELD  — Industrial sterilization companies in Illinois which use the toxic chemical ethylene oxide may soon have to comply with stricter safety requirements. 

The Illinois House on Friday passed Senate Bill 1852 in response to an ethylene oxide leak that occurred at the Willowbrook plant of a Sterigenics facility, about 20 miles west of Chicago.

“It's the most, I would say, most concerning health issue that I have encountered in my career in Springfield, and it happens to be in my district,” said House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, the lead sponsor of the bill.

Durkin named the bill the “Matt Haller Act,” after a 45-year-old Willowbrook man who spoke out against Sterigenics, the company Haller believed was responsible for emitting ethylene oxide into the community.

Haller lived a half a mile from the Sterigenics facility with a wife and son. At the age of 42, Haller was diagnosed with a rare form of stomach cancer. Haller died earlier this year at the age of 45.

“He told me, when we were in our office, that he wants to make sure that … [he] does not want this to happen to another family what has happened to him,” Durkin said Friday.

Rep. Deanne Mazzochi, a Republican from Elmhurst, about 12 miles north of Willowbrook, said the bill that took nearly nine months to draft will ensure Illinois will have “the most stringent standards” when it comes to sterilization facilities.

“Dangerous chemicals necessarily mean that we have to have manufactures behaving responsibly and they can’t be leaping through loopholes,” Mazzochi said. “This bill closes loopholes.”

Of the new standards included in the bill, testing will no longer be conducted in “one narrow location,” and all points of ventilation will need to be tested yearly.  

In counties with at least 50,000 residents, the bill prohibits similar companies from placing facilities within 10 miles of schools or parks.  Counties with fewer than 50,000 residents would require a 15-mile buffer.

“We’re also making sure there's no more cherry-picking test results, no more hiding data and no more ensuring there’s going to be less harmful technology getting buried and not brought to the forefront,” Mazzochi said.

Earlier this year, Sterigenics was placed under a seal of order, preventing the company from continuing its ethylene oxide operations.  

In August 2018, the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry, a federal agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, monitored ethylene oxide levels of the facility and reported in a letter there was an “elevated cancer risk” for anyone who lives near, or works in, the facility.

Durkin said there’s a high concentration of people in the district who’ve come down with rare illnesses, mostly children and women.

“The amount of illness, sickness, cancer, tumors is of a nature I’ve never seen or experienced in my life,” Durkin said.

The March 29 findings of a study conducted near the Sterigenics facility determined some cancers were more prominent in the area and there were higher occurrences among the female population in the area, according the to the Illinois Department of Public Health

A March 2019 report from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency determined Sterigenics has remained in compliance with that order.  

Durkin said “bad actors” operating in communities that risk the health of residents shouldn’t get a second chance.

“I want to make it very clear,” Durkin said. “As a resident and father in that region, I do not want Sterigenics to open their doors again.”

The bill passed the Senate on April 10, but the House version made an amendment to it, which means the bill now has to return to the Senate for a vote on whether to concur with that amendment.

 

 

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Jeff Rogers

Jeff RogersJeff Rogers

Jeff has more than 30 years’ experience working for newspapers as a reporter and editor. He was the editor of daily newspapers in northern Illinois and Wisconsin before joining as Capitol News Illinois’ editor, where he oversees the news service’s development, growth and fundraising. He grew up in Lanark in northwest Illinois and has a journalism degree from Bradley University in Peoria.

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