By Joanna Chlystek

On Thursday August 1st a crowd of about a hundred, according to media reports, came out to protest the issuance of a permit to Sterigenics, an area company long known to have polluted Willowbrook and nearby communities with a Class 1 Carcinogen: ethylene oxide.  The firm currently is under a seal order, which restricts it from using EtO, due to its exceeding EPA emissions limits, but is seeking to resume operations following the construction of new controls. It is the position of Stop Sterigenics that EtO is unsafe at any level, and that the Willowbrook Sterigenics facility should never reopen again.  Following the protest, around 500 participants attended the Illinois EPA Public Meeting.  

Stop Sterigenics communicates through a variety of channels such as its Facebook page, but also strong media contacts, editorials, and relationships with other advocates in the fight for clean air are keeping the focus on this topic. As a result, just last month, July 2019, another community, this time in Smyrna Georgia, discovered that they too were being exposed to EtO from Sterigenics. We quickly reached out  and have teamed up to provide guidance and support to that community sharing lessons to help the residents of Smyrna deal with this new reality they are facing. We’ll continue to work together, for the collective benefit of all affected communities.

This fight is far from over though. The Illinois EPA announced they will accept written comments on the permit until August 15thand they will render a decision thereafter.  Concurrently, the municipalities will be filing a brief to the courts regarding the action against Sterigenics, and that matter goes back to court on September 6thto determine if the judge will uphold the consent agreement issued to Sterigenics by the Illinois EPA.  This is an important date and Stop Sterigenics is asking community members to make plans to be in attendance for the hearing on September 6th  at the DuPage County Court House.

On Saturday, August 24th from 5:30-6:30 PM Stop Sterigenics will hold a Vigil in front of the Sterigenics Willowbrook facility, located at 7775 S Quincy St., to commemorate the one-year anniversary of our community learning about Sterigenics’ EtO emissions.  It is a time to look back on the suffering, the loss, and the perseverance of our collective communities, which have banded together to confront the threat head on. The vigil is also to remind us what we’ve achieved and what remains to be completed, keeping us focused on our objective to breathe easier, figuratively and literally, when we’re finally done. For more information please visit our event page:

Many in Chicagoland are at risk, as EtO can reach upwards of 20 miles from its source.  Given the number of facilities in the area and to the north of us, there may not be very many ‘safe zones’ free from this carcinogen. A taller stack, which is what is being proposed in the Willowbrook Sterigenics Construction Permit, may only further its EtO reach.  It’s important for all those living in Chicago and its surrounding communities to call on their local government, their municipalities, and ask for resolutions to ban the use of this toxic pollutant. Contact information for legislators is available on the Stop Sterigenics site, under the heading ‘More’.

Stop Sterigenics is also asking the community to continue its calls on Governor Pritzker to call a special session and pass a ban on EtO emissions for the safety of this community.  Information on this topic is constantly in a state of flux and keeping up to date to mobilize quickly is key. Subscribing to the Stop Sterigenics site is one way to stay in the loop. Another is to follow us on Twitter and Facebook.  We can’t do it without support from the community and since we are a volunteer organization, we accept donations which is how we continue to improve mechanisms and tools to keep communications active, ensuring this topic remains relevant until resolved.