FILE - Jim Durkin

Illinois House Minority Leader Jim Durkin R-Western Springs, speaks at a news conference at the State Capitol in Springfield, Ill., Tuesday, April 10, 2018.

One of Illinois’ leading lawmakers wants to know if state officials were negotiating an agreement with a company found to have been polluting the air around his district as he was passing new rules that would have shut the facility down.

House Republican Minority Leader Jim Durkin told a panel of Illinois Environmental Protection Agency officials that he wanted to know if they were negotiating a workaround to his legislation with ethylene oxide emitting sterilizer Sterigenics before it even passed.

“I’d like to know when the discussions between the EPA or the Attorney General and Sterigenics started related to the settlement of lifting the seal order,” Durkin told the panel. “I’ve been told, and it’s all hearsay, that it goes back many months while the bill was being negotiated.”

In a call a few days later, Durkin said that he passed what he thought was the best protection he could get from the EPA, but was concerned people may not have been honest with him.

“I don’t want to say I’ve been misled, but trust is everything in Springfield,” he said, reiterating his call for the state EPA to reverse course on the construction agreement the agency struck with Sterigenics to reopen the company's Willowbrook facility.

Attorney General Kwame Raoul's office responded Wednesday.

"Settlement negotiations with Sterigenics began at the direction of a federal judge, who issued a March 8 order directing the state and Sterigenics to enter into negotiations," said Annie Thompson, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General's office. "Even before formal settlement negotiations began, the Illinois EPA, the Attorney General’s office and DuPage County State’s Attorney’s Office had been in discussions with Sterigenics for several months about the actions Sterigenics needed to take to protect the community and drastically reduce ethylene oxide emissions from the facility. Settlement negotiations are confidential, and while we were not able to provide legislative leaders with details of the discussions, we worked to keep them apprised of the progress."

Thompson also praised the Durkin's work on the legislation.

“The Attorney General is statutorily obligated to represent the state in litigation, and our goal is to settle disputes between parties and achieve the best outcome for the people of Illinois. We applaud Leader Durkin and members of the General Assembly for passing the stringent restrictions on ethylene oxide emissions that are now law," she said. "Separately, we are proud to have negotiated a consent order that mirrors those strong regulations and goes even further than the law by preventing Sterigenics from reopening until it can demonstrate it is in compliance with both the law and the consent order.”

Durkin told the state EPA panel he had a brain tumor removed in 2006.

“I’m not sure how I got it, but it was rough,” he told the panel. “It left me permanently deaf in my left ear, but I had to re-learn to walk.”

He felt the time was right to reveal that publicly to show his sympathy for those near Sterigenics who have cancer.

Durkin didn’t say that his tumor, which was benign, was caused by ethylene oxide emitted from the Willowbrook facility, but he also wouldn’t rule it out.

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.