Months after area protesters called for the closure of Sterigenics' Willowbrook facility over allegedly elevated ethylene oxide emissions, an Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) official earlier today ordered the facility shut down.
IEPA Acting Director John J. Kim issued a seal order to the Sterigenics facility on South Quincy Street, according to an IEPA statement issued today. The order is intended "to prevent the commencement of any new sterilization cycles using ethylene oxide to prevent emissions which present an imminent and substantial endangerment to residents and off-site workers in the Willowbrook community," the IEPA statement said.
The seal order also restricts access to ethylene oxide storage vessels to prevent ethylene oxide from being placed in a sterilization chamber.
"Only persons authorized, in writing, by the Director of the Illinois EPA may access the sealed vessels to conduct activities within the scope of their specified authorization," the statement said.
Neither the seal order nor the statement suggest the IEPA has found that the facility violated air pollution regulations or its operating permit issued by the IEPA in 2015.
The shutdown is rooted in an IEPA announcement in October that called upon the State Attorney General to temporarily shut down Sterigenics US. The agency sought an order enjoining Sterigenics from operations that resulted in emissions after finding the chemical plant on Quincy Street and Midway in Willowbrook had been releasing illegal amounts of cancer-causing ethylene oxide into the air.
Sterigenics uses ethylene oxide to sterilize medical equipment.
The IEPA's announcement came weeks after release of a federal report from the national air toxins assessment that revealed long-term ethylene oxide exposure carries a serious cancer risk and that Sterigenics' Willowbrook operation was emitting the chemical at "elevated levels."
Amid the storm of controversy that erupted following the IEPA's announcement, Illinois Republican House Leader Jim Durkin introduced House Bill 5952 to require high ethylene oxide emitters to cease operations. While that legislation never made it out of the House Rules Committee, in September the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency agreed to conduct a follow-up ambient air quality study in neighborhoods in proximity to the site.
In November, the IEPA issued another statement announcing a coordinated effort to identify private drinking water wells servicing homes near the Sterigenics Willowbrook operation. That same month, hundreds of Willowbrook residents gathered to demand answers and called for Sterigenics' immediate closure. The home-grown activist group Stop Sterigenics conducted its own protest at Sterigenics headquarters in Oak Brook in December.
Last week, Willowbrook area residents renewed their calls for the facility to be shut down.