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Illinois Lawmakers Call For "Permanent" Solution to Sterigenics Pollution

Sam Dunklau
NPR Illinois 91.9 FM
Gabriela Tejeda-Rios, center, talks to reporters about the Sterigenics plant in her community at a news conference on Feb. 19. To her left, State Sen. John Curran (R, Downers Grove)

A group of Illinois state lawmakers is moving to limit the industrial use of a cancer-causing gas known as ethylene oxide.

Last week, the Illinois EPA banned Sterigenics, a industrial sterilization company, from using a gas called ethylene oxide at one of its Chicago-area plants. A federal report last year showed Sterigenics was allowing huge amounts of the cancer-causing gas to pour into neighborhoods around the plant, despite pollution-control devices.

The company is one of several that uses ethylene oxide to sterilize medical equipment and even food.

Gabriela Tejeda-Rios is with the community group Stop Sterigenics.

“My home is located .2 miles from Sterigenics," she told reporters at a news conference Tuesday. "I look over at Sterigenics’ buildings and I see that same carcinogenic smoke permeating our sky, permeating our lungs and bodies with every breath that we take...and this has become my norm.”

Even slight exposure to ethylene oxide has been long known to cause cancer.

State Senator John Curran, a Republican from Downers Grove, says Illinois law should punish companies that let emissions get out of control.

“We need to make sure proper policies and protections are in place to ensure we do not have a situation like this again," he said. "and we need to ensure the health and well-being of residents.”

Curran’s bills would require companies to let communities know when ethylene oxide leaks out, and even force plants to shut down if emissions of the gas get too high.

Sterigenics did not comment on lawmaker’s actions Tuesday, but called last week’s shutdown of its plant by the Illinois EPA “indefensible.”

Sam is a Public Affairs Reporting intern for spring 2018, working out the NPR Illinois Statehouse bureau.
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