FILE - Gov. J.B. Pritzker, May 15, 2019

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said he’ll call lawmakers back to Springfield if the House’s top Republican wants to change legislation that put stronger standards on the emissions of a cancer-causing chemical. 

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin said Pritzker fast-tracked re-opening of “corporate polluter.”

Pritzker and Attorney General Kwame Raoul released statements Friday defending their decision to allow a medical instrument sterilization company to reopen its facility in suburban Chicago in December as long as the company adheres to new emissions standards. Residents and lawmakers had wanted the plant shut down over concerns about ethylene oxide emissions causing cancer.

The Sterigenics plant was shut down by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency after it was found the facility was emitting higher levels of ethylene oxide than previously thought. Some had questioned the accuracy of the testing that led to the shutdown.

In response to criticism from Durkin, a Western Springs resident who resides miles from the Sterigenics facility that was shut down, Pritzker said the consent order they entered into would be safer for nearby residents than if they continued to fight the company in court.

“This morning, I spoke with Leader Durkin and I emphasized, based on conversations with the Attorney General, the potential danger to the health and safety of the residents of Willowbrook involved in further litigation, which would not have achieved the same level of protection as the consent order,” Pritzker said. 

The governor put the onus back on Durkin, saying he would call lawmakers back to Springfield for a special session if the minority leader wanted to pass legislation to fix “perceived shortcomings” of the bill he worked to pass.

“...if he requests it, I will call a special session of the legislature to allow for an immediate vote on a bill that is constitutional and will fix the perceived shortcomings of the legislation he previously sponsored,” Pritzker said. 

Durkin shot back. 

“As I told Gov. Pritzker yesterday, the legislation supported by the Illinois Environmental Council is not the problem,” Durkin said Friday. “Unfortunately, Gov. Pritzker and his regulators are willing to fast track the reopening of Sterigenics by entering into a settlement agreement with the corporate polluter to lift the seal order.”

Attorney General Kwame Raoul said in the same statement that entering into an agreement with the company was a safer option than continuing to fight them in court.

“The suggestion that continuing the litigation over the seal order would provide greater protection to residents is inaccurate and uninformed,” he said. “The very real risk that continued litigation could result in Sterigenics being able to reopen before installing any new emissions controls – while still operating under its existing permit that authorized it to emit 36,400 pounds of EtO per year – was unacceptable.”

Sterigenics, the company that operates the Willowbrook facility, released a statement on the agreement.

“We are pleased to have reached this agreement, which creates a path for our Willowbrook facility to resume its safe operation and includes no finding of wrongdoing on the company’s part nor the imposition of any financial penalties,” Sterigenics President Philip Macnabb said.

The new requirements, the company said, ensure that the facility will have the tightest controls on ethylene oxide emissions in the country.

Staff Reporter

Cole Lauterbach reports on Illinois government and statewide issues for The Center Square. He has produced radio shows for stations in Bloomington/Normal and Peoria, and created award-winning programs for Comcast SportsNet Chicago.