A United States congressman has helped to secure $5.6 million to support ethylene oxide testing in Lake County and other affected areas in a proposed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funding bill. The cancer-causing gas has historically been emitted at high levels by at least two Lake County facilities, as well as Sterigenics in Willowbrook, IL.
EPA Funding Bill “Urging” Ethylene Oxide Testing
On May 23, 2019, Rep. Brad Schneider, a Democrat representing Illinois’ 10th Congressional District, announced that the House Appropriations Committee would be including a $5.6 million increase in an EPA appropriations bill to fund “ambient air monitoring of Ethylene Oxide (EtO).” Additional funding would “support EPA air monitoring for communities identified by the National Air Toxics Assessment (NATA) as facing high levels of EtO emissions, including those in Lake County.”
Ethylene oxide – a chemical that is commonly used to sterilize medical instruments, pharmaceutical drugs, and food – has been found by the EPA to cause cancer.
The proposed EPA funding bill also includes language “urging EPA to conduct ambient air monitoring in communities like Lake County that the NATA identified as facing high EtO levels, in coordination with state and local public health departments and other federal agencies.” (The EPA appropriations bill would need to be passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law by the president before taking effect.)
According to a statement released by Schneider’s office, the strong language “urging” ethylene oxide testing was included in the bill because of a letter Rep. Schneider sent to House appropriators in April 2019 requesting additional funding. Schenider was joined on the letter by Reps. Sean Casten, Daniel Lipinski, Bill Foster, Mike Quigley, and Lauren Underwood of Illinois.
Schneider’s office said these actions are necessary because the EPA “has refused to conduct ambient air monitoring” in Lake County “since reporting Lake County communities face high EtO emissions.” Such monitoring would “provide the community with critical public health information about the air they breathe.”
Other Lake County Facilities Emitting Ethylene Oxide
As Schneider’s office noted, earlier EPA ambient air monitoring “played a central role in the Illinois state government’s decision to shutter the Sterigenics facility” in Willowbrook for its excessive emissions of cancer-causing ethylene oxide gas. Under the direction of Gov. Pritzker in February 2019, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) issued a “seal order” prohibiting Sterigenics from pumping ethylene oxide gas into sterilization chambers, effectively ending the facility’s operations. The IEPA conducted ambient air monitoring for six days after the Sterigenics shutdown and found a significant decrease in the amount of ethylene oxide gas – by as much as 50 to 90 percent in some areas.
But while the Sterigenics facility in Willowbrook remains shut down, two other Lake County facilities have continued emitting high levels of ethylene oxide into the surrounding communities. These facilities are Vantage Specialty Chemicals in Gurnee and Medline Industries in Waukegan.
According to a November 2018 report by the Chicago Tribune, the EPA has designated the communities surrounding Vantage and Medline as areas that face abnormally high cancer risks. This designation is reserved for only a few dozen communities across the country, including the neighborhoods surrounding Sterigenics’ Willowbrook facility. More than 19,000 people live within the high-risk area surrounding Medline’s Waukegan plant. Over 23,000 people live near Vantage’s Gurnee chemical plant, with Six Flags Great America about two miles west of it.
In the wake of the Chicago Tribune report, both Vantage and Medline promised to conduct their own air testing, though neither company has revealed its testing plans publically. Vantage has reportedly installed an additional pollution control device at its Gurnee plant, while Medline recently sent a proposal to the IEPA to install pollution control equipment that it claims will capture more than 99.9 percent of the ethylene oxide used at its Waukegan facility.
However, Medline has also joined forces with chemical industry lobbyists who are seeking to cast doubt on the health risks posed by ethylene oxide and to overturn stringent safety limits imposed by the EPA in 2016.
Lake County Communities Doing Own Testing
The ethylene oxide levels in Lake County have raised alarm among residents and elected officials. In light of the continued inaction by the EPA and the IEPA, Lake County communities have organized their own program to monitor ethylene oxide emissions.
On May 23, a Lake County Health Department spokeswoman announced that Lake County will partner with Waukegan and Gurnee to cover the cost of independent air testing in the areas surrounding Vantage and Medline. The ethylene oxide testing is scheduled to begin on June 1.
Ethylene Oxide Lawsuit Attorneys
GWC Injury Lawyers has been retained by multiple parties who have lived or worked near the Sterigenics facility for a number of years and have developed cancers that may be related to their exposure to ethylene oxide gas. Our firm is also investigating on behalf of those who may have developed cancer because of ethylene oxide emissions from Vantage Specialty Chemicals or Medline Industries.
If you have lived or worked near Sterigenics in Willowbrook, Vantage in Gurnee, or Medline in Waukegan, and have been diagnosed with cancer, contact GWC today for a free, no-obligation consultation with one of our attorneys. Call our office at (312) 464-1234 or click here to chat with a representative at any time.