Residents call on Gurnee board to study emissions 'health crisis'

  • Gurnee resident Susan Henning was one of many at Monday's board meeting who urged the Gurnee village board to conduct independent testing of Vantage.

      Gurnee resident Susan Henning was one of many at Monday's board meeting who urged the Gurnee village board to conduct independent testing of Vantage. Doug t. Graham | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 2/26/2019 9:55 AM
Editor's note: This article was edited to reflect that gas leaked from Vantage’s facility was within EPA guidelines.

As they have for several weeks, residents at Monday's Gurnee village board meeting urged officials to conduct an independent emissions study near a local manufacturer.

Vantage, located at 3938 Porett Drive in Gurnee, uses ethylene oxide, a gas which was classified by the EPA as cancer-causing by the EPA in 2016, to produce household items such as shampoo and soap. It was reported last fall that the gas had leaked from Vantage's facility within EPA guidelines.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Resident Jennifer Comiza said she has twin 6-year-old daughters who have drawn almost every breath of their life in Gurnee. She said while lawmakers look for a legal solution to ban ethylene oxide outright, she implores the board to accelerate the process by conducting testing.

"I really think it is tantamount to a health crisis," Comiza said. "I'm not marking time right now in days or weeks and months but by the number of breaths my children take until this is resolved."

Residents spoke for nearly an hour about their concerns that the board hasn't acted.

Mayor Kristina Kovarik said after the meeting that the village is working very hard to find a solution.

"We're doing everything they're asking," Kovarik said, noting that she's cut her vacation short and taken two days off work in the past few weeks to attend discussions with local leaders. "Everything they want done we're working on. Our legislators are doing a fantastic job, we're collaborating, cooperating, it's been fantastic."

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Many of the residents who spoke are part of a group called Stop ETO. Kovarik said the group hasn't wanted to work with the village, and that several members of the group make untrue and disparaging statements about her online.

"We're getting all this 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."

Elsewhere on Monday, local and state officials -- including two U.S. Representatives and both of Illinois' senators -- released a statement urging the EPA to begin air monitoring near Vantage and Medline Industries in Waukegan.

The village is supporting three pieces of legislation that would tighten EPA regulations on ethylene oxide.

Resident Susan Henning, who lives a mile and a half from Vantage, said she is a cancer survivor and has a neighbor who is a cancer survivor.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I'm not saying our cancer was caused by this but we do know that ethylene oxide is a carcinogen, and the census said that those who live near Medline have an increased risk of cancer," Henning said. "Every day that goes by is crucial. Every day that goes by we're breathing in more of this air."

Hours before the village board meeting, Ryan Horath, a member of Stop ETO in Lake County who is running for a seat on the village board, said he thinks the village has been too passive in their reaction to the situation with Vantage. He said the situation could be a threat to tourism, which the village relies on to generate sales tax revenue.

"People will be hesitant to come to the village," Horath said. "They won't be satisfied that it is below a certain threshold, they'll just read that its in the air and won't want to come."

Incumbent trustee Cheryl Ross said she was in a meeting with Vantage engineers and got to ask questions about the leaks and said she felt the village should wait for the EPA before acting against the plant.

"To say we should shut down the plant with 127 people working there, that's their livelihood," Ross said. "It's time to wait and make an informed decision after."

The candidates made their statements Monday afternoon during a Daily Herald editorial board endorsement session.

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