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Sterigenics says lives at risk if its Illinois medical sterilization operations stop

Illinois Watchdog.Org

Thursday, November 1, 2018  |  Article  |  By Greg Bishop

Environment (41) , EPA (41)

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin sued Sterigenics U.S. LLC this week and asked a court to ban the company’s ethylene oxide, or EtO, emissions, saying it’s releasing carcinogens in the air around a densely populated area.

"The issue of clean air is not negotiable," Berlin said in a statement.

Sterigenics fired back in a statement saying the company followed regulations and “any disruption to the operations of the Sterigenics Willowbrook facility would seriously undermine the ability to proceed with scheduled surgeries and procedures and would put patients’ lives at risk.”

Last week, before the lawsuit was filed, Mark Biell, CEO of the Chemical Industry Council of Illinois, told state lawmakers that 2.1 million medical items sterilized with ethylene oxide are used every day. Those items include pacemakers, implantable defibrillators, vascular catheters, radiological signs and more.

“Ethylene oxide truly is the workhorse of the sterilization industry,” he said. “Over 50 percent of all medical devices and items are sterilized with ethylene oxide. Over 90 percent of the sterilization is done by contract sterilizers and medical equipment manufacturers with a small remaining portion done by the hospitals.”

Biell said the chemical is responsible for saving countless lives.

“Over the history of ethylene oxide use there is no question ethylene oxide has prevented millions of deaths related to infection. If an ethylene oxide sterilization facility shuts down there is no excess capacity to fill in the gap. I want to repeat. There is no extra capacity to fill in the gap.”

After Madigan’s lawsuit, several politicians released statements lauding the action. Gov. Bruce Rauner said his administration had referred the matter to the Attorney General's Office earlier this month.

"After many discussions and collaboration, the Attorney General moved on our referral,” Rauner said in a statement. “It is the right thing to do.”

The Democratic Party of Illinois said Rauner failed to do anything about it.

Biell told lawmakers the scare was caused by errors, including a threshold that was set too low. He also said a national report used manipulated sample data.

“And presto, we have folks who are here that have been scared the living daylights out of,” Biell said. “We’re upset because it sent shock waves through an industry that we think is safe and has been safe for years and unfortunately it’s got our elected officials all in a panic.”

Madigan’s case is pending in a DuPage County Circuit Court.