With new controls in place, Medline again using ethylene oxide at Waukegan plant

  • Medline Industries has resumed operation of its commercial sterilization processes using ethylene oxide at the company's plant in Waukegan.

      Medline Industries has resumed operation of its commercial sterilization processes using ethylene oxide at the company's plant in Waukegan. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer, 2019

 
 
Updated 3/30/2020 5:12 PM

Medline Industries has resumed operations using ethylene oxide, a potential cancer-causing gas, to sterilize medical equipment and devices at its facility in Waukegan.

Sterilization services at 1160 Northpoint Boulevard resumed Friday following the installation, testing, review and approval of a $10 million emission control system that captures 99.99% of the ethylene oxide used there.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The plant employs 400 at the manufacturing and sterilization facility and is running three shifts, according to company spokesman Jesse Greenberg.

Besides its usual business of sterilizing surgical packs used by health care professionals, the company is working with the federal Food and Drug Administration for approval to reprocess N95 respirators and other face masks using ethylene oxide, Greenberg said.

Medline voluntarily discontinued the sterilization services on Dec. 13, pending compliance with new state rules.

According to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, Medline was allowed to resume operations after being found in compliance with new standards regarding the use of ethylene oxide. The action followed consultation with the Illinois Attorney General's office.

In a news release on the decision, the IEPA said the testing was conducted by a third-party contractor, but agency representatives were on site to monitor and ensure it was done to applicable standards.

The agency said a review of final reports for the negative pressure system, continuous emissions monitoring system and "stack" emissions showed Medline complies with the Matt Haller Act.

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Haller was a Willowbrook resident and outspoken opponent of Sterigenics, which used ethylene oxide to sterilize equipment. He died last year of stomach cancer.

The Sterigenics facility closed last fall after more than 30 years and the company is being sued by dozens who say their health was harmed by its operations.

Greenberg said the emission controls at Medline "brings the most advanced safety technology in the world," to Waukegan.

Medline must meet monthly and annual caps on ethylene oxide emissions and conduct annual testing, according to the IEPA. Visit www2.illinois.gov/epa for more information.

In late 2018, the Lake County Health Department learned of concerns about the use of ethylene oxide at Medline's facility as well as Vantage Specialty Chemicals in Gurnee. Vantage uses the chemical to produce household items such as soap and shampoo. Its continuous monitoring system was put into operation in April 2019.

Air monitoring around the two plants began last June. According to the most recent health department update, a final 30-day period of monitoring will be conducted to provide post emission control data.

Many of the components sterilized in Waukegan are required to treat sick patients and those affected by COVID-19, such as endotracheal tubes if a patient is put on a respirator and protective equipment like gowns and tubing, Greenberg said.

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