Advocates question scope of testing for cancer-causing agent in Gurnee, Waukegan

  • Testing will likely begin soon at Vantage Specialty Chemicals on Porett Drive in Gurnee.

      Testing will likely begin soon at Vantage Specialty Chemicals on Porett Drive in Gurnee. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

Updated 4/15/2019 6:27 PM

The announcement that testing should soon begin for cancer-causing ethylene oxide near manufacturing facilities in Gurnee and Waukegan has not satisfied all the concerns of one of the groups advocating for testing, nor has it soothed relations between the advocates and Gurnee Mayor Kristina Kovarik.

Gurnee resident and Stop ETO in Lake County member Tea Tanaka said group members are glad testing will be done, but they want testing to be conducted for longer than the 30-day period announced by Lake County health officials last week.


Tanaka said the group is afraid that the companies being tested -- Vantage in Gurnee and Medline in Waukegan -- will simply reduce the amount of ethylene oxide they normally use during the 30-day period.

"We believe these companies have enough material backup that shutting down production for 30 days wouldn't be a huge pinch for them," Tanaka said.

Natalie Bauer Luce, spokeswoman for Vantage, said the company will conduct normal operations during the 30-day monitoring period.

"At all times, Vantage will continue to operate safely in compliance with relevant environmental laws and regulations, and we will continue to work with local and state officials to address any additional community concerns," Luce said.

Kovarik said she is confident the testing will be conducted properly.

"We have experts who advise us on these matters," Kovarik said.

The testing likely will start on June 1. Readings will be taken every three days.

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In February, results gathered from a similar 30-day testing period of the air near the Sterigenics plant in Willowbrook led to the plant being shut down by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. Tanaka said Stop ETO officials want the Vantage and Medline tests to be longer because, unlike in Willowbrook, there are not other agencies testing the air as well.

"They had the luxury of the U.S. EPA testing," Tanaka said.

Kovarik said Stop ETO's criticism boils down to trying to discredit the testing before it's even started.

Tanaka said Kovarik has dragged her feet on conducting tests on Vantage for months and village officials are going along with the Lake County testing under protest.

"(Kovarik and the village board) were shamed into going along with independent testing," Tanaka said. "So now it looks bad for them politically not to jump on board."


Kovarik has long insisted that she has pushed for testing. After another village board meeting where members of Stop ETO called upon the village to fund independent testing in February, Kovarik said officials were working on getting testing done despite Stop ETO.

"We're doing it for the whole village," Kovarik said. "I've never been so treated like this in my life."

Waukegan Mayor Sam Cunningham said Monday that Kovarik and Gurnee officials have worked collaboratively with Waukegan officials and the Lake County Health Department for months.

"Working with all three entities has been an experience, and we all hope whatever info that comes back we can deliver to the right regulatory agency," Cunningham said.

Contracts for the monitoring are expected to be voted on in early May.

Kovarik said she expects Gurnee to end up paying somewhere in the low six figures for the testing.

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