Testing reveals temporary spike in cancer-causing gas near Gurnee

  • The Lake County Health Department released results of air testing data Tuesday.

    The Lake County Health Department released results of air testing data Tuesday. courtesy of Hannah Goering, Lake County Health Department

By Doug Graham
Updated 11/27/2019 6:49 PM

The second round of air testing for the cancer-causing gas ethylene oxide near Vantage Specialty Chemicals in Gurnee detected a high concentration once in early November, the Lake County Health Department reported. But whether the amount tracked poses a risk to residents is still unknown, according to village officials.

The report released Tuesday also included data from testing canisters placed near Medline Health in Waukegan. The factories have been the target of lawsuits by residents who say the companies' ethylene oxide emissions gave them cancer. Like Sterigenics -- the Willowbrook facility that was closed earlier this year over health concerns -- Medline and Vantage use ethylene oxide as a sterilizing agent for medical equipment.


The early results released Tuesday show that ethylene oxide levels for all but one of 12 testing locations near the facilities still fell within the ranges seen in the first testing period, completed over the summer.

The exception was the southeast corner of Northwestern and Keith avenues in Gurnee. The testing canister recorded 3.66 micrograms of ETO per cubic meter of air, or 2.03 parts per billion, on Nov. 1 and 2, according to the results.

According to the EPA, the concentration of ethylene oxide associated with a 100-in-a-million cancer risk, for someone who has a lifetime of continuous exposure, is 0.02 micrograms per cubic meter of air.

The EPA considers any exposure, however small, to create some cancer risk.

A spokesperson for Medline told ABC 7 that the company is encouraged by the initial data, especially since officials are still in the process of installing additional redundant emission technologies.

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Representatives of both Vantage and Medline said the companies are installing new controls approved by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency that will eliminate 99.9% of all ethylene oxide used in their processes.

Tea Tanaka of the group Stop ETO in Lake County said members believe that the only acceptable policy regarding ETO is for companies to stop using it entirely.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry will conduct a health risk assessment based on the results, and the Illinois Department of Public Health plans to complete a cancer incidence study that includes Lake County, according to the Tuesday news release.

Jack Linehan, the assistant to the Gurnee village manager, said the village will rely on the expertise of the regulators.

"We're interested in learning what the results mean for the health of our residents," Linehan said.

According to the county, samples are being collected from testing canisters every third day for a 90-day period. This round of outdoor air monitoring began Oct. 26 and will continue until January.

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