It’s almost midnight, and sleep won’t come. My mind is racing. You see, our community is in crisis.
A real crisis.
We’ve been being poisoned by a company called Sterigenics, and it’s been happening without our knowledge since the mid-1980’s. Our cancer rates are disturbingly higher than the national average, but only in a several-mile radius surrounding this plant. Maybe it was more appropriate for them to be granted a permit in 1986, but we all know that this area’s population has boomed since then, and that our highly residential area is no place for them to continue to operate in present day. They burn and emit twenty-four-hours a day, seven days a week.
They’ve got to go before they kill any more of us.
No, I’m not being dramatic. They use a highly-toxic chemical called Ethylene Oxide to sterilize plastic medical equipment, burning off the residual toxic poison directly into the air from their twin smokestacks.
They are located yards away from the shopping center that houses our Target, Dunkin Donuts, Chipotle and the brand-new Marshalls everyone is so excited about.
They’re less than one mile from four schools and a day care center, where children play outside.
They are less than one mile from where we’re reluctant to send our son to play his almost-daily fall baseball and flag football games, depending on which way the wind blows.
And they are located about a mile from our home and less than one mile from that of my parents.
Let me tell you about my parents’ experience in the Western Suburbs. For this affects us all. Not just Willowbrook, but Hinsdale, Burr Ridge, Darien, Westmont, Lisle, LaGrange, Western Springs, Clarendon Hills, Indian Head Park, Lyons. You get the point. ( Check out the map I’m attaching to this. Enter “Chicago, IL” and take a look at the disgusting blue cloud that hangs over our neighborhoods, indicating the level of toxicity. The only place that matches us in size is Petroleum Alley in Louisiana. Try not to be sleepless about that.)
My parents moved here from Cleveland, Ohio in 2007 to be close to their grandchildren after we begged them to do so. They left their friends, home and my dad’s business behind to come and support us while my husband traveled to finish his career in Major League Baseball. Both of them were healthy and happy when they crossed the threshold of their Willowbrook home eleven years ago.
Where are they now?
My mom died in October of 2014 after an excruciating battle with liver and kidney disease. She didn’t drink. She didn’t smoke. She didn’t do drugs. She was a life-long vegetarian. She meditated daily.
She did like to have her windows open in her house, but had a little joke with my dad when he’d scramble around to let in some “fresh air.”
“Jerry---there’s no such thing as fresh air.”
I guess she was DEAD right.
My dad who was already an avid exerciser and walker, as a way to process his grief after losing his wife of forty-eight years, started doubling his daily load to eight miles a day. Friends on the way to shop for organic food at the Whole Foods near his house (what’s the point if we’re all being poisoned, right?!) noticed him, pumping his arms, looking happy and healthy on his morning treks.
What’s he up to these days?
Oh, he’s trying to reclaim his life after he almost lost it to a huge brain tumor that nearly robbed him of his eyesight when it rapidly overtook his brain. We spent our Christmas Eve this year at Rush Hospital, while brilliant surgeons cut his head open from one ear to the other to remove a huge mass that surrounded his pituitary. The cause of his kind of tumor is largely unknown, but pardon me if I’ve stopped believing in coincidences at this stage of the game.
There is no way in hell I’m going to sit by and let any other members of my family or community continue to breath in this toxic sludge. Can we afford to move? Sure. But this is our home. We shouldn’t have to even consider that.
The Illinois EPA has glibly decided that there “isn’t an immediate health crisis,’ a fact which our incumbent Governor who is running for reelection has decided to parrot. Another fun fact about Governor Bruce Rauner? He used to have a bunch of stock in the company that owns Sterigenics. Does his appointed head of the ILEPA look the other way because his boss has a dog in the fight? Enquiring minds want to know. And while many local community leaders and mayors have stepped up to voice concerns and take action, our Mayor, who is coffee buddies with the man who owns the building and rents it to Sterigenics, has fumbled the ball. His silence is deafening.
Our community is organizing at the grass roots level, and our numbers are strong. We started with a petition, but there is so much more than that in the works to remove this toxic weed from our garden. We will be a boil on the butt of Sterigenics’ existence until someone hears us. Will it be the ILEPA? Will it be the CEO of Sterigenics’ parent company, SOTERA HEATH? (Yes, HEALTH. Isn’t that rich? And it’s a Cleveland-headquartered company now, ironically.)
Will it be the Governor? Or the landlord of the building that they rent?
Someone has to have a soul. They must have elderly parents or young children that they care about. One of their wives or mothers must have been touched by breast cancer at some point. Do you know how many of OUR mothers and wives have? More than the fair share. WAY more than the national average.
The time for being quiet is over. It’s time to act. The squeaky wheel gets the oil.
Erin Brockovich showed us the way. If it means lawsuits need to be filed, so be it. We are ready to fight and we’re in this for the long haul. We won’t tire. We won’t get weary. We aren’t going away. It would be much cheaper and easier for everyone if Sterigenics would pick up their operation and leave. But we can see that’s not their plan.
So now we have a plan, too.
We are in crisis.
A REAL crisis.
See for yourself: