One disturbing takeaway from the year-long mob and media assault on Sterigenics, the Willowbrook plant that sterilizes medical equipment, is that it leaves hundreds of other businesses in DuPage County alone vulnerable to the same contrived, targeted campaign, says air quality expert and author Rich Trzupek.
Trzupek told the DuPage Policy Journal that 2,196 facilities in the county in 2014, the most recent year for which statistics are available, reported emissions of compounds the federal EPA considers Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs). Most emissions were of compounds that are cancer causing (many substances in high enough concentrations are), and some of them are considered far more potent than ethylene oxide (EtO), the gas at the center of the issue in the Willowbrook area.
To compare HAP levels across businesses only, Trzupek carved out car and truck emissions, and those from what are called area sources, house paint, nail polish – even wildfires and plant life – that the EPA includes in its measurements. Mobile and area sources are in many cases responsible for the majority of emissions of HAPs, Trzupek said.
For example, Styrene emissions in DuPage over 2014 came in at 15,600 pounds; formaldehyde at 10,462 pounds, methanol at 16,290, and Hexane at 12,685 pounds. EtO at 153 pounds is far down on the list.
Trzupek said that in the past businesses emitting HAPs could be assured that if they met federal and state permit and regulatory requirements they would be able to keep operating. That is no longer the case given what’s happened to Sterigenics.
“Every one of those 2,196 facilities in DuPage County now has a target on its back,” Trzupek said. “Should the Chicago Tribune decide to make any one of them their next target [as Tribune reporter Michael Hawthorne has with Sterigenics] compliance with permit and regulatory obligations no longer provides protection.”
Trzupek also said Sterigenics has always been in compliance with regulatory requirements, and that levels of EtO detected near the Willowbrook plant never threatened anyone’s health. Yet under public pressure, Illinois EPA shut the plan down in February.
The company recently came to an agreement with the agency to reopen with stricter controls at the plant, which exceed the requirements in a tough, new law hurried through the General Assembly and signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in June. The company also agreed to donate $300,000 towards community and environmental projects.
But on July 24, a DuPage County judge delayed a ruling on the agreement with the Illinois EPA, giving residents time to comment. Last night, residents sounded off at a meeting, hosted by Illinois EPA officials, on the plant’s possible reopening.
On another front, state Sen. John Curran (R-Downers Grove) and two other state lawmakers have filed a court action opposing the consent order. And on July 30, Curran filed legislation in Springfield to effectively ban the use of EtO statewide by 2022.
“Anyone considering building a new industrial facility in Illinois that may emit an air pollutant is well-advised to look elsewhere,” Trzupek said. “In Illinois, there is no shortage of potential targets, nor any lack of opportunistic politicians ready, willing and able to lead the mob. Developers should stay out of the crosshairs.”