Lawyers Cry Foul on State Deal with Sterigenics

Jul 18, 2019

Illinois reached an agreement this week with a suburban Chicago cleaning facility that was releasing toxins into the air at unsafe levels. But attorneys representing residents who live near the plant aren’t happy with it.

State regulators ordered the Sterigenics Plant in Willowbrook to close because it was giving off large amounts of ethylene oxide, or EtO, which can cause cancer. If a judge approves a deal the Attorney General reached with the company, the plant could start operating again. That agreement states Sterigenics would have to fund at least $300,000 of community projects, and install technology to reduce its ethylene oxide emissions to nearly zero.

A report from the state's Department of Public Health found the company emitted between 5,000 and 33,000 pounds of the cancer-causing agent every year since it opened in 1984. New regulations allow it to emit just 85 pounds per year.

Brian Eldridge is a lawyer representing residents who lived near the plant. He says the firm can’t be trusted.

“This is a company that is currently being accused of killing people, and causing scores of cancer across the Willowbrook area," he said. "They should not be allowed to open their doors.”

Eldrige says he and others are moving forward with their cases against Sterigenics because the state’s settlement doesn’t address the harm they suffered.  Chicago attorney Steven Hart, another lawyer involved in the suits, says moving to re-open the plant would do more harm than good.

“They should have forfeited their opportunity to conduct business in this community," he said. "They have never acknowledged responsibility. They have never acknowledged the harm that they’ve created, and they refuse to. They don’t, quite frankly, get it.”

Though the attorneys seem to be charging ahead, both Governor J.B. Pritzker and Attorney General Kwame Raoul issued a statement Thursday discouraging further litigation. Both claim continuing action against Sterigenics in court poses a danger to "the health and safety of Willowbrook residents."

Raoul stated Sterigenics already attempted to exploit a legal loophole in new legislation that ratchets up emissions requirements--and that the current settlement, known as a consent decree, is the only way to keep it in check for the time being.

In a press release Wednesday, Sterigenics president Phil Macnabb said he's pleased with the settlement, pledged to “protect public health," and that the state found “no wrongdoing."