In wake of Sterigenics emissions, tighter controls clear Illinois House

SPRINGFIELD - Companies that use the toxic chemical ethylene oxide may soon have to comply with stricter safety requirements.

The Illinois House on Friday passed Senate Bill 1852 in response to ethylene oxide emissions from the Sterigenics plant in Willowbrook, which state officials shut down in February.

"It's the most, I would say, most concerning health issue that I have encountered in my career in Springfield, and it happens to be in my district," said House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, a Western Springs resident and the lead sponsor of the bill.

Durkin named the bill the "Matt Haller Act," after a Willowbrook man who spoke out against Sterigenics, which he believed was responsible for emitting ethylene oxide into the community.

Haller lived a half a mile from the Sterigenics facility with a wife and son. At 42, Haller was diagnosed with a rare form of stomach cancer, and he died earlier this year at 45.

Durkin said Friday that Haller had told him he didn't want another family to go through what his did.

Rep. Deanne Mazzochi, a Republican from Elmhurst, said the bill that took nearly nine months to draft would ensure "the most stringent standards" when it comes to sterilization facilities.

"Dangerous chemicals necessarily mean that we have to have manufactures behaving responsibly and they can't be leaping through loopholes," Mazzochi said. "This bill closes loopholes."

Testing would no longer be conducted in "one narrow location," and all points of ventilation would need to be tested yearly.

In counties with at least 50,000 residents, the bill would prohibit similar companies from placing facilities within 10 miles of schools or parks. Counties with fewer than 50,000 residents would require a 15-mile buffer.

"We're also making sure there's no more cherry-picking test results, no more hiding data and no more ensuring there's going to be less harmful technology getting buried and not brought to the forefront," Mazzochi said.

In August 2018, the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry, a federal agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, monitored ethylene oxide levels and reported there was an "elevated cancer risk" for anyone who lives near or works at Sterigenics.

Durkin said there's a high concentration of people in the district - mostly children and women - who've come down with rare illnesses.

"The amount of illness, sickness, cancer, tumors is of a nature I've never seen or experienced in my life," Durkin said.

Durkin said "bad actors" operating in communities that risk the health of residents shouldn't get a second chance.

"I want to make it very clear," Durkin said. "As a resident and father in that region, I do not want Sterigenics to open their doors again."

The bill passed the Senate on April 10, but the House version made an amendment to it, which means the bill now has to return to the Senate for a vote on the change.

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