Why Lake County health officials want Gurnee, Waukegan facilities investigated

Lake County health officials are seeking information and a meeting with state and federal environmental agencies regarding emissions of a potentially cancer-causing gas from businesses in Gurnee and Waukegan.

The concern stems from the reported release of ethylene oxide, a colorless gas used as a sterilizing agent for medical equipment and in the manufacture of industrial chemicals, at Medline Industries Inc., in Waukegan and Vantage Specialty Chemicals Inc., in Gurnee.

The Lake County Health Department has requested meetings with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to obtain more information about the issue, spokeswoman Hannah Goering said.

The health department also has submitted public records requests to the Illinois EPA for 10 years of emissions data for the Sterigenics facility in West suburban Willowbrook, as well as the two facilities in Lake County; copies of the facilities' air operating permits and reports of violations in the past 10 years; and permissible ethylene oxide emissions at each, according to information provided Tuesday to the county board's health and community services committee.

County health officials have been investigating since a report last week regarding ethylene oxide emissions from Medline and Vantage. The Chicago Tribune reported that emission levels at Vantage were higher than at Sterigenics, which Attorney General Lisa Madigan and DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin are seeking to shut down over pollution concerns.

The Illinois EPA and U.S. EPA have sole jurisdiction over ethylene oxide emissions, including permitting and monitoring the facilities, Goering said.

"We can't tell them to do anything," committee Chair Steve Carlson said of the companies.

According to information provided to the committee, outdoor air quality monitoring needs to be done at multiple locations to fully assess the risk to residents. The health department does not have the capability or equipment and wants the U.S. EPA to do it.

The health department also recommended the IEPA and/or U.S. EPA immediately perform an in-depth investigation of ethylene oxide emissions at the two facilities. The results should be shared with the public as well as local, state and federal agencies with subsequent actions based on the findings, according to the health department.

Goering said further information will be provided as it becomes available.

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