Schneider calls for Waukegan plant's temporary closure after carcinogenic gas detected
Environmental tests have revealed "elevated" levels of a carcinogenic gas near a Waukegan factory, Lake County officials announced Friday, leading the area's federal legislators to call on the state to take "all appropriate actions to protect the public health."
Monitors placed near Medline Industries in Waukegan recorded elevated ethylene oxide in the air earlier this month, the Lake County Health Department said in a news release. Equipment near Vantage Specialty Chemicals in Gurnee detected less significant amounts of the colorless gas, officials said.
Ethylene oxide, used as a sterilizing agent for medical equipment and to manufacture industrial chemicals, is one of 187 air pollutants Congress considers "hazardous," health department spokeswoman Hannah Goering said. There is no safe threshold for it, she said.
Following the announcement, Rep. Brad Schneider called the data "disturbing" and demanded "an immediate suspension of operations" at the Medline facility until unsafe levels of ethylene oxide emissions are eliminated. Schneider, a Deerfield Democrat, represents Illinois' 10th District, which includes both factories.
Later in the day, Schneider, Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, and Reps. Sean Casten and Lauren Underwood -- all Democrats -- sent letters requesting urgent action to Gov. J.B. Pritzker and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler.
County officials became concerned about the emissions late last year after media reports about the sites. They pushed state and federal environmental agencies to conduct immediate testing to no avail.
The county health department subsequently launched a 30-day monitoring program, with support from leaders in Gurnee and Waukegan.
Air monitoring began the first week of June at four sites near Medline, four sites near Vantage and two remote locations that will provide background levels of ethylene oxide, officials said.
The data released Friday comes from just three days of sampling, and legislators calling for action acknowledged it is "preliminary and based on a small sample size." Monitoring is continuing. Current and future results can be found at lakecountyil.gov/eto.
The data has been sent to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, which would be the regulatory agency in the matter. It has agreed to fund additional air monitoring after upgrades designed to reduce emissions at Medline and Vantage are completed.
That's not good enough for Schneider.
"The test results released today again highlight the inexplicable and inexcusable refusal of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to undertake ambient air monitoring in Lake County, forcing our local communities to undertake and fund testing on their own," Schneider said.
The congressman noted that the Illinois EPA shuttered Sterigenics in West suburban Willowbrook in February after its ethylene oxide test results there were disclosed, and he urged Pritzker to "exercise similar discretion" at Medline.
The county's announcement came the same day Pritzker signed a law creating the nation's strictest limits on ethylene oxide emissions.
The legislation requires factories to nearly eliminate emissions. It also sets emissions and air-testing protocols and prevents facilities that use the compound from being built near schools and parks.
"This is a major step forward to ensure the air we breathe is safe," state Sen. Melinda Bush, a Grayslake Democrat who championed the legislation, said in a news release.
Anyone with questions about the air monitoring should visit lakecountyil.gov/eto or call (847) 377-8020.