WILLOWBROOK, Ill. (WLS) -- Southwest suburban residents are still fighting to keep a medical sterilization plant from reopening after government tests found that the company was emitting cancer-causing chemicals into the air near its facility.
The room was packed for a public forum hosted by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency on the issuance of a construction permit for Sterigenics that would allow the company to continue operating.
"This is a death sentence you're passing on to all of us - not a permit, a death sentence," Randall McNichols, a resident of Darien, said at the meeting.
Jana Conev, a member of community activism group Stop Sterigenics, is one of many who are already living that death sentence.
"I have cancer. My husband has three kinds of cancer," she said.
Colleen Haller watched her husband slowly die from stomach cancer.
"There are images I can never get out of my head, and that is watching your spouse take their last breath because of this company, Sterigenics," she said.
Sterigenics' Willowbrook facility has been shut down since February because of concerns about its emissions of ethylene oxide (EtO), a carcinogenic chemical. But last month the company said it reached a deal with the state of Illinois to resume operations at the facility under far stricter guidelines of how much EtO could be safely emitted from the plant.
"You've been protecting this company for 20 years and we're sick of it," Sri Rao, another Stop Sterigenics member, said at the meeting.
The company said the agreement would put into place the strictest EtO controls in the country. Conev says any amount of EtO emitted is still too much.
"There is absolutely no EtO, no little amount, that's safe. None. They must be closed forever," she said. "We thought we were done with this."
Residents in the southwest suburbs have been waging battle against Sterigenics, which has operated in Willowbrook since 1984, for nearly a year now. A study by the Illinois Department of Public Health detected higher rates of cancer near the facility, which was revealed to have released more than 254,000 pounds of the cancer-causing gas over a quarter century.
"That's the big question: How much damage has this done to the DNA of my children?" one protester said.
Gary Grasso, the mayor of Burr Ridge, implored officials to stop this deal from moving forward.
"You are the Environmental Protection Agency. Please protect us!" he said.
One other option being considered at this point, according to an agenda posted online, is whether the town of Darien can join with other towns in the area to take Sterigenics' property through the process of eminent domain.
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