CHICAGO (CBS) — Matt Haller, 45, died in March from stomach cancer. He was concerned a chemical emitted from a local company may have been to blame. Now a new Illinois law cracking down on cancer-causing emissions is being called the toughest in the nation.
The Matt Haller Act requires facilities to limit ethylene oxide emissions by 99.9%. Companies must also undergo annual air tests. Those that fail must cease operations immediately.
“I’ve melted down to nothing,” Haller told CBS 2’s Dave Savini shortly before his death. “I’ve got nothing left.”
Haller fought for answers about the Sterigenics plant down the road from his home right until the end.
“To think this company could have literally been behind my death is shocking. It’s utterly shocking,” said Haller.
Haller also fought for more government oversight of ethylene oxide emissions for those in the community and especially for his wife, Colleen, and son, Cullen.
“My son is four years old, and he is right at that stage, is he going to remember me?” Haller said. “I’m not going to be able to teach him to play hockey. So much loss, you know? When you look forward you just see loss.”
“He would just be so proud and so relieved and so happy,” said Colleen Haller.
Colleen and Cullen Haller still live in the community about a mile from the Willowbrook facility.
In February the state shut down the ethylene oxide part of the operation at Sterigenics after testing that showed high levels of the gas in the air.
“I don’t want them to ever open again,” said Colleen Haller.
Matt Haller died of stomach cancer the next month.
Colleen said Matt’s goal was always to find the truth. Even a day and a half before he passed away, he was still fighting, urging more whistleblowers to come forward.
“Tell your story. Tell us what you know,” he said. “And let’s fight. Let’s fight this for the community.”
Former Sterigenics workers came forward to the CBS 2 Investigators; alleging the company cut corners on safety, and alleging it released more ethylene oxide than ever reported to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Now the Matt Haller Law will be his legacy.
“Matt Haller wants greater accountability,” said Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, who sponsored the ethylene oxide legislation and named it after Haller. “The point is, is that they will be regulated more than they ever have been before.”
“It’s heartbreaking because I don’t want to see anyone else go through what my brother just went through,” said Wally Haller. “I think that having these restrictions is going to change everything.”
Sterigenics released the following statement in response to the legislation:
“Sterigenics takes very seriously our responsibility for the control and related emissions of ethylene oxide (EO). We have complied with and outperformed the requirements set forth by existing state and federal regulations and will continue to do so going
As previously disclosed, Sterigenics has been recommending potential emission control improvement options to regulators for several months, the implementation of which would further enhance the control measures at our Willowbrook facility. We believe these measures will not only enable us to comply with the new Illinois law related to EO sterilization facilities, but will also establish our Willowbrook facility as the strongest emission control environment for EO sterilization in the country and provide further reassurance to the public.
Sterigenics is committed to the safety of our employees, the communities we operate in and the patients we serve and will continue to work with regulators, legislators and Illinois public officials to evolve regulations and continuously improve our operations in the ongoing interest of public safety.”