Sterigenics said yesterday that it’s planning to shutter an Illinois plant that uses ethylene oxide to sterilize medical devices, little more than a week after winning approval to reopen the facility.
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency moved last year to temporarily close the plant, which shut down in February, citing excessive emissions of EO, a colorless, odorless gas known to cause cancer. The plant sterilized millions of medical devices annually — 594 types of devices, according to the FDA, including sutures, clamps, knives, stents and needles — and its closure left medtech companies scrambling for alternatives and the FDA concerned about shortages.
Just last week the state environmental regulator approved the company’s plan to retrofit the plant to improve its emission controls before reopening. But Sterigenics faced vocal opposition from local activists and politicians, with state legislators filing bills to allow tighter EO restrictions or outright bans at the municipal level.
Yesterday Sterigenics said the “unpredictable legislative and regulatory landscape” is prompting it to abandon the Willowbrook plant, which employs about 30 people.
“Given the unstable legislative and regulatory landscape in Illinois, Sterigenics will not pursue reopening of its second location on Midway Drive in Willowbrook,” the company said. “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.”
Ethylene oxide plants owned by Sterigenics and BD in Georgia have reported emitting thousands of pounds of the gas into the air since the EPA began investigating emission levels in 2007. A BD spokesman said the plant reported 657 pounds of emissions last year; its permit would have allowed 10,000 pounds, the spokesman said.*
* Correction, Oct. 11, 2019: This article originally reported that the companies reported emissions in excess of allowable limits. ↩