The message to the Illinois’ Environmental Protection Agency Thursday evening from hundreds of residents of Willowbrook, Darien, Hinsdale and Burr Ridge was they do not believe Sterigenics’ claims about its sterilization operations, nor do they trust the agency’s efforts to protect them from toxic chemicals.
More than 500 people attended the agency’s public meeting on a construction permit to allow Sterigenics to resume sterilization with ethylene oxide at one of its buildings in Willowbrook.
Some people described specific shortcomings they saw in the permit; others objected to allowing Sterigenics to reopen under any conditions.
State Rep. Jim Durkin of Western Springs said one reason the permit should be denied is because Sterigenics proposes using a new continuous emissions monitoring system, in addition to its existing systems. But Durkin said Sterigenics says the new system has not been used previously in a sterilization facility like the one in Willowbrook.
Sterigenics director of environmental health Kevin Wagner wrote in a letter to the IEPA that the company looks forward to working with the agency to gain field experience with such systems. Durkin said that wasn’t enough.
“It seems to me the monitoring system proposed is untested and is not reliable, and at this point it cannot accomplish the goals in order to get the job done,” he said.
Durkin also told the panel from the IEPA that he was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2006 that left him totally deaf in his left ear. He said he wanted more information from Sterigenics about they handle the drums of ethylene oxide after they are emptied.
Durkin said the agency should deny the permit.
“This permit is a farce,” Durkin said. “I don’t want them back here anymore. They have given up the right to work in this region, and I’m a pro-business Republican.”
State Rep. Deanne Mazzochi, a Republican from Elmhurst, said approval of the permit would be premature, because the company has not produced a complete list of all the products it would sterilize at the Willowbrook plant.
The Matt Haller Act, which became law June 21, requires that manufacturers of products Sterigenics proposes to sterilize at its facilities must present certifications that there is no other reliable method for sterilization.
“You can’t rubber stamp, you can’t assume, you can’t agree to work with them,” Mazzochi told the agency officials. “You have to do the work first for each and every product, publish those findings and let the public test the accuracy of those findings.”
Mazzochi also said there were no facts supporting the agency’s determination that with the improvements proposed in the permit application, Sterigenics’ emission control system would use technology that produces the greatest reduction available in ethylene oxide emissions.
Many residents spoke heartbreakingly of their own and their relatives’ battles with cancer they believe was caused by ethylene oxide emissions from the Sterigenics plant.
Colleen Haller, the wife of Matt Haller, a Willowbrook resident and outspoken critic of Sterigenics’ use of ethylene oxide before he March death at age 45, said she watched her husband die slowly from stomach cancer over 16 months.
Darien city administrator Bryon Vana advised the agency to hold a hearing that requires Sterigenics to be present to answer questions.
If a resident wants to put up an 8-foot fence, instead of a 6-foot fence, he has to come before village officials and be cross-examined about why he needs the zoning variance, Vana said. He questioned why, then, EPA representatives were answering for Sterigenics.
Hinsdale Village Board member Luke Stifflear said state legislators, including Durkin and Mazzochi, did a good job of outlining the technical flaws in Sterigenics’ permit application.
“What came across from all the residents and officials from Willowbrook, Burr Ridge, Darien and Hinsdale who spoke was that Sterigenics cannot be trusted,” Stifflear said.
Hinsdale Village Board member Neale Byrnes said the company has a dismal track record.
Sterigenics officials have said its Willowbrook operations consistently complied with and outperformed the state’s requirement. In a statement released after a DuPage County judge July 24 delayed implementing the Illinois Attorney General’s consent order, which would have allowed Sterigenics to reopen, Sterigenics said it is committed to abiding by the new state requirements and acting in the interest of the community, its employees, customers and the patients and hospitals they serve by sterilizing medical equipment.
The judge said Sterigenics should remain closed until at least Sept. 6 to allow citizens and local government officials 30 days to comment on the proposed agreement.