Talks to extend ethylene oxide air testing underway
A 30-day period of outdoor air monitoring in Gurnee and Waukegan -- designed to measure the cancer-causing gas ethylene oxide emitted by two manufacturers -- is underway, and Lake County health officials say they are working on doubling or tripling the length of the tests.
Meanwhile, Stop ETO in Lake County is hosting a rally beginning Saturday to encourage further regulations and testing.
Mark Pfister, the executive director of the Lake County Health Department, updated Lake County Board members Friday during the board's informal work session. He said air monitoring equipment was put in place this week at four sites around Vantage Specialty Chemicals in Gurnee, four around Medline Industries in Waukegan and two at remote sites -- one between the two and another about three miles to the west. Gurnee, Waukegan and Lake County are sharing the cost of the independent monitoring program, and the health department is managing the project.
Pfister said officials are working with acting Illinois EPA director John J. Kim on securing $125,000 in state funds to pay for another 30 days of testing. Pfister said Friday that he has been working with several people including U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider, a Deerfield Democrat, on securing federal funds as well.
"My hope is we can get to 90 days of testing with local sources, state sources and federal sources," Pfister said Friday. "That's been my goal since day one on Nov. 2 when the health department was made aware of the problem."
Officials from both Lake County companies say they are within state and federal standards for ethylene oxide emissions and are working on ways to increase efficiency of current emission controls. 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.
Tea Tanaka, a member of the group Stop ETO in Lake County, said she thought it was a good thing that there are talks of extending the testing period but said there should be more canisters to better capture the ethylene oxide emissions.
"Just because you know where the wind usually blows doesn't mean it will blow that way," Tanaka said, referring to where the initial canisters were placed.
Stop ETO in Lake County is hosting a rally beginning at 1:30 p.m. Saturday near the intersection of Grand Avenue and Route 21 in Gurnee. Tanaka said 110 to 120 people came to the group's last rally on April 6.
She said she is hoping to get that many people again, but because testing has started and state lawmakers passed new laws regulating ETO emissions, people might think the problem has been solved.
"What has been done already is a really good start, but it isn't the end," Tanaka said. "The legislation makes Illinois the state with the strongest regulations on ETO emissions; however, there is still room to strengthen the laws more."
Tanaka said lawmakers dropped a provision that would have required the state to make random, unannounced air quality tests for ETO, which the group wants to have enforced.
• Daily Herald staff writer Mick Zawislak contributed to this report.