Lawmakers seek investigation of toxic emissions at two Lake County plants
Federal and state legislators are asking for an investigation into toxic emissions from two Lake County plants that were expelling the same cancer-causing gas that has politicians seeking the closure of a Willowbrook facility.
In a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth along with U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider are seeking monitoring and tests of air quality around Vantage Specialty Chemicals Inc. in Gurnee and Medline Industries Inc. in Waukegan to determine the levels of ethylene oxide being emitted. They are also urging the EPA to revise emission limits of the gas down to levels deemed safe in 2014 and 2016 reports.
"These recent reports have shown that the existing standards need to be lowered to protect public health in communities across the country," the letter reads.
The outcry from the legislators comes on the heels of a report by the Chicago Tribune that showed emission levels at the Vantage facility were higher than at Sterigenics, a Willowbrook-based plant that uses ethylene oxide to sterilize medical equipment and that has come under fire for its emissions in recent weeks. Late last month, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin filed a complaint in a state court seeking to shut down Sterigenics because of the emissions.
Sterigenics officials have posted on the company's website a statement noting they have installed equipment to better control emissions that tests have shown are working.
Sterigenics is partly owned by Gov. Bruce Rauner's former private equity firm. The Rauner administration and the state EPA office run by Rauner appointees have come under fire for their response to the emission results at Sterigenics.
In Lake County, the Tribune reported that an error by state environmental officials resulted in emission data from Vantage not being properly reported to the federal government for a 2014 study. The Tribune report suggests nearly 30,000 residents were exposed to the emissions.
Illinois EPA officials said the emissions results for Vantage were left blank by the company in 2014 and were "inadvertently" entered as "zero" by the state environmental agency.
"Conversations" about the reporting error have "been had with the source that include U.S. EPA, Illinois EPA and the Illinois attorney general's office," said IEPA spokeswoman Kim Biggs.
State Sen. Terry Link, a Democrat from Waukegan, said he hopes the IEPA "steps up immediately on this and doesn't hesitate like they did" with Sterigenics. He chastised the Republican governor for not acting more quickly.
"This administration is not taking the lead on this like they should," he said.
Gurnee officials refused to respond directly to questions about the emissions' effects on residents, instead releasing a statement acknowledging they were aware of the results.
"The village has been advised that Vantage Specialty Chemicals Inc. is cooperating with the EPA to provide additional information about its current emissions control equipment and perimeter testing to be conducted at the facility, the results of which will be provided to the EPA," the statement reads. "The village will continue to monitor EPA risk assessments as to the use of the chemical ethylene oxide within the Village."