Illinois EPA Shuts Medical Instrument Sterilization Facility Due to Pollution

February 22, 2019

A suburban Chicago plant that sterilizes medical instruments with a chemical believed to be cancer causing has been shut by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

The state EPA issued a seal order for Sterigenics U.S. in Willowbrook. The agency said the order was issued because air sampling by Willowbrook officials and the U.S. EPA consistently found high outdoor ambient levels of ethylene oxide. Federal regulators consider the gas a carcinogen.

Former Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Republican DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin filed suit last year claiming the Sterigenics plant was “a public health-risk nuisance.”

Sterigenics in the past has said ethylene oxide is the only process to sterilize medical instruments that is federally approved.

In a statement late Friday, the company called the IEPA’s action “indefensible.”

The company sought an emergency order to reopen, but a federal judge has refused the request.

In seeking an emergency order to reopen, Sterigenics attorney Gerard Kelly on Feb. 20 told U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly the plant’s shutdown is “causing a crisis” for its customers. He said medical supply companies will be in a lurch without Sterigenics’ products because it will take them months to find a new place to get what they need.

Illinois EPA attorney Steve Sylvester called ethylene oxide a known human carcinogen. Sylvester added environmental data obtained Feb. 19 were alarming due to “fugitive emissions.”