Federal report on ethylene oxide air levels near two Lake County factories released for public comment

A federal health agency is seeking public input on its draft report on cancer-causing ethylene oxide concentrations in outdoor air near Medline Industries in Waukegan and Vantage Specialty Chemicals in Gurnee.

Scientists from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry will be available Wednesday at Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep, 3106 Belvidere Road (Route 120) in Waukegan.

From 5 to 7 p.m., attendees can meet with scientists, ask questions and discuss environmental public health concerns. The agency’s evaluation of ethylene oxide (EtO) in the outdoor air near Medline’s medical sterilization facility and the Vantage chemical manufacturing plant 3 miles away will be discussed from 7 to 8 p.m.

  Emissions of ethylene oxide from Vantage Specialty Chemicals manufacturing plant in Gurnee were studied by a federal public health agency and included in a report released for public comment. Paul Valade/

The Lake County Health Department in early November 2018 learned of concerns surrounding ethylene oxide emissions from the two companies and contacted state and federal environmental authorities regarding the situation and public desire for air monitoring.

Ethylene oxide emissions down significantly at two Lake County companies, EPA data shows

Subsequent testing showed emissions of cancer-causing ethylene oxide from Medline and Vantage dropped significantly after controls were installed and were well below permitted levels, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported in October 2021.

Tests for ethylene oxide in Lake County are done. What happens next?

The 129-page ATSDR report analyzed concentrations measured near Medline from June 2019 through September 2023 and at Vantage from June 2019 to May 2020. Data after May 2020 was not available.

U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider, founder and chair of the bipartisan Congressional Ethylene Oxide Task Force, and Illinois Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth issued a joint statement Friday.

Air monitoring urged near plants in Gurnee, Waukegan

“Today’s report shows that stringent emissions controls and ambient air monitoring appear to be effective in helping ensure the air is safe to breathe for residents living near facilities that use ethylene oxide,” the lawmakers said.

According to the statement, the trio were pleased recent EtO measurement near Medline are consistent with measurements at locations in Lake County and around the country that are not close to any facilities using ethylene oxide.

“Nevertheless, it remains imperative that EtO levels continue to be monitored going forward so area residents can be confident their communities are safe,” the statement read.

They also urged Vantage to resume air monitoring outside the Gurnee plant to ensure their control systems are working and asked the U.S. EPA to continue to improve methods with lower detection limits to observe EtO levels.

ATSDR will accept comments on the report until Aug. 5 in writing at Records Center, 4770 Buford Highway NE, MS S106-5, Atlanta, Georgia, 30341 or electronically at

Responses will be included in an appendix of the final report. For more information, call (800) 232-4636 or visit or

Schneider, Durbin and Duckworth last summer led support for an EtO sterilizer rule finalized in March to reduce EtO emissions more than 90% at facilities across the country, according the statement. They also are working to advance innovative ways to sterilize medical devices with lower levels of currently used agents and use new agents or alternatives.

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