Air monitoring urged near plants in Gurnee, Waukegan

 
 
Updated 2/25/2019 6:26 PM
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Lake County health officials and others are pushing to have the air near two manufacturing facilities in Gurnee and Waukegan monitored for ethylene oxide, a cancer-causing gas.

The Lake County Health Department also says it is urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to host a town hall meeting to share information and hear concerns regarding emissions from Medline Industries in Waukegan and Vantage Specialty Chemicals in Gurnee.

It's part of a united effort by federal and state legislators to prod the U.S. EPA to action and provide the 23,000 residents living nearby with more information as quickly as possible.

In a news release Friday, 10th District U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider said he and 14th District U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood had joined Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth in urging the EPA to begin air monitoring near the two facilities.

The four Democrats co-signed a letter dated Feb. 15 to Bill Wehrum, assistant administrator of the EPA's air and radiation division.

"It's wholly unacceptable that our communities are still waiting on data about the safety of our air. We need ambient air monitoring of ethylene oxide at the two facilities in Lake County, and we need it now. There can't be any further delay from the EPA," Schneider said Monday.

On Thursday, state Sen. Melinda Bush, chairwoman of the Illinois Senate's Environmental Committee, sent a similar letter to Wehrum and said she will introduce a joint resolution in the General Assembly requesting that the U.S. EPA conduct ambient air monitoring.

In December 2016, ethylene oxide was classified by the EPA as a human carcinogen. Concerns regarding emissions arose last fall, with the brunt of news and activity involving ethylene oxide centered on Sterigenics U.S. in Willowbrook, which uses the substance to sterilize medical instruments.

State officials ordered that facility closed after air sampling results showed extreme day-to-day fluctuations in levels of the gas. That action was upheld last week by a federal judge.

The Schneider letter to Wehrum cited "deeply alarming data" regarding air levels of ethylene oxide in Willowbrook and said the issue remains critical for them and constituents who live near facilities that emit it.

Both Lake County companies say they are within state and federal standards for ethylene oxide emissions. But legislators, noting findings in Willowbrook, contend they can't rely on self-reported data alone to determine local risks.

Vantage uses ethylene oxide to produce household items, such as soap and shampoo. Medline produces and sterilizes more than 16,000 surgical packs per day used by 80 percent of hospitals in Illinois.

Both say they are working on ways to increase efficiency of current emission controls. That work is either pending or underway, according to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

State and federal agencies have jurisdiction for regulating emissions. Local officials have been in regular contact with those agencies and have visited Vantage and Medline "to gather information and convey the public's concerns", according to the health department.

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