Illinois has approved the most stringent laws in the nation for the use of a cancer-causing sterilization agent commonly used to clean medical equipment.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the Matt Haller Act – named after one of the local residents who died of cancer believed to be from ethylene oxide – on Friday. It sets strict emissions requirements. Companies in Illinois have six months to comply with the emissions requirements or face being shut down by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.
The law comes in response to a number of investigations and the closure of medical sterilization company Sterigenics in Willowbrook concerns that emissions from that facility were causing cancer in local residents. Medline, which owns the facility, has said that it was shut down despite following all state and federal laws.
Illinois State House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, said lawmakers passed the bill with safety in mind.
“We are pleased to say that the Matt Haller Act is the strongest law in the nation regarding the use and restrictions of ethylene oxide,” he said.
Democratic Illinois Congressman Dan Lipinski said he will work to make national standards match those adopted by Illinois.
“Protecting public health and safety is the No. 1 job of every elected official,” he said.
Mark Biel, with the Chemical Industry Council of Illinois, said half of the medical instruments used in Illinois every day are sterilized using ethylene oxide so additional facility closures could lead to medical device shortages.
“There’s a grave concern that there is going to be shortages,” he said. “Not only in Illinois, but around the country.”
He said the test that the United States Environmental Protection Agency used to measure the threat of ethylene oxide was flawed because its tolerance was less than what the normal person was exposed to via cigarette smoke or vehicle exhaust.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued warnings about potential device shortages and has set up a webpage for hospitals to report shortages.
"The FDA has been working to quickly and proactively secure alternative locations and methods for the sterilization of devices that were previously processed at the Willowbrook facility in order to mitigate potential product supply issues," the department said. "We’re taking steps to prevent patient harm from potential device shortages that could delay or disrupt critical care.”
The law takes effect immediately.