WILLOWBROOK, Ill. (WLS) -- Sterigenics will permanently close its facility in southwest suburban Willowbrook after months of controversy after testing found it emitted a cancer-causing chemical into the air around the plant.
The company announced its plans Monday in a press release. The facility had been shut down since February due to concerns about the ethylene oxide emissions. The company, which sterilizes medical equipment, has operated in Willowbrook since 1984.
"Unfortunately, inaccurate and unfounded claims regarding Sterigenics and the unstable legislative and regulatory landscape in Illinois have created an environment in which it is not prudent to maintain these critical sterilization operations in Willowbrook," the company said in part in a lengthy statement it released.
The fight by opponents to close the plant has lasted more than a year.
"All I can tell you is that we're thrilled and looking forward to life after Sterigenics," said Willowbrook Mayor Frank Trilla.
"Neither the U.S. EPA or IEPA did us any favors in this process," said House Republican Leader Jim Durkin at a Monday afternoon press conference. "It's the community behind me that was not going to be denied."
The medical sterilization company reached a deal with the state in July to resume operations of the facility after agreeing to install new emission capture and control equipment that would allow the facility to meet the state's new standards.
"I'm thinking they're finally getting the message they're not welcome here," said Jana Conev, a cancer survivor who is suing Sterigenics. "They never should've been here."
Conev, along with her husband who has also battled cancer, is one of more than 30 plaintiffs suing the company.
"Our home is supposed to be our sanctuary," she said. "And this last year it was turned into a prison. We couldn't breathe the air outside. We couldn't breathe the air inside. We can't sell our homes. We don't want to live in our homes."
At Willowbrook Village Hall Monday night there were hugs, tears and relief.
"I can't wait to go to bed, tuck my two little children into bed tonight, and know this fear isn't over our head anymore," said Lauren Kaesberg of Stop Sterigenics.
"I think I can hear all of Willowbrook exhaling," Conev said.
Sterigenics said it will focus on its facilities outside of Illinois, but opponents here say they plan to fight for national changes in ethylene oxide regulations, including an outright ban on the use of the chemical
Governor JB Pritzker released a statement on Twitter, saying, "Sterigenics' decision today represents a significant development, demonstrating that Illinoisans will come together to protect the health and wellbeing of all our residents - which has been my goal from the beginning. From shutting down their operations in February to enacting the nation's strongest law regulating ethylene oxide, we sent a clear, unified message that we take all possible steps to protect residents' health."
DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin released a statement saying, "On behalf of the DuPage County Board, we welcome the news today that Sterigenics plans to exit ethylene oxide sterilization operations in Willowbrook. We are pleased to know our efforts to advocate for and protect the public health and safety of our residents living and working near this facility have been successful. We commend local lawmakers, municipal leaders and thousands of local residents, who never tired in their efforts to raise awareness and push for clean air and a healthy environment for DuPage families."
U.S. Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL 11) released a statement, saying, "Sterigenics' decision to permanently close its Willowbrook facility is best for all concerned. From the beginning, the company's handling of this situation has been insufficiently respectful of the sincere concerns raised by people who live and work in Willowbrook and the surrounding communities. I will continue to work in Congress to make sure the EPA has the resources it needs to protect the health and well-being of all our communities."
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