In about-face, Gov. Bruce Rauner calls for Sterigenics shutdown after weeks of downplaying cancer risks

After spending the past month downplaying cancer risks from toxic air pollution in west suburban Willowbrook, Gov. Bruce Rauner on Tuesday joined a chorus of elected officials calling for the shutdown of a Sterigenics International facility co-owned by his former private equity firm.

Fellow Republicans from DuPage County have been clamoring for Rauner to take more aggressive action against the company, which for more than three decades has used highly potent ethylene oxide gas to sterilize medical instruments, pharmaceutical drugs and food near densely populated neighborhoods and several schools.

As recently as Friday, the most the Republican governor would say about Sterigenics was that he had instructed the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to launch an investigation. But Rauner changed course after the weekend, ordered his staff to refer the case to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the state’s chief lawyer, then urged the Democrat to seek a court order that would close the Willowbrook facility until a separate federal investigation “assures the community that resumed operations would not present an elevated health risk.”

Rauner’s sudden reversal comes as local politicians, many of whom like the governor are on the Nov. 6 ballot, face a fury of complaints about a federal report that revealed unusually high cancer risks from ethylene oxide pollution in traditionally Republican communities near Sterigenics. Citizen groups that quickly organized against the company garnered even more attention when Burr Ridge resident Andrea Thome and her husband, the former Chicago White Sox slugger Jim Thome, added their voices to the anti-Sterigenics movement.

The pre-election political stakes are high enough that the Trump administration weighed in on the issue last week, dispatching a presidential appointee in charge of the EPA’s air division to promise the agency will conduct the type of neighborhood air monitoring that Madigan and others have been calling for during the past month.

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October 2, 2018 at 06:21PM

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