Cancer-Causing Gas Emitted from 2 Lake County Polluters, Report Says

Aerial view of a chemical factory

Public not warned of ethylene oxide exposure in Waukegan, Gurnee

Two Lake County, Illinois, companies are putting community residents at risk from the same cancer-causing gas emissions that put a medical instrument sterilization facility in south suburban Willowbrook at the forefront of air quality concerns in the Chicago area, the Chicago Tribune reports.

Ethylene oxide, a chemical that was classified as a “known human carcinogen” in 2000, is widely used in the United States in a wide range of industries under strict regulatory guidelines.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) created maps to illustrate communities facing abnormally high cancer risks from toxic air pollution. The area surrounding the Sterigenics facility in Willowbrook is among those indicating a high risk.

The EPA recognized that Medline Industries in Waukegan is also presenting a risk to residents due to its ethylene oxide emissions, and that Vantage Specialty Chemicals in Gurnee releases more pounds of ethylene oxide than either Sterigenics or Medline.

The findings regarding Medline and Vantage were not shared with the public until the Tribune’s report. Officials have declined to explain why neighbors have not previously been warned about the hazards.

Neither of the Lake County facilities appears to be violating ethylene oxide emissions regulatory limits, but legal air pollution can still pose dangers to surrounding communities. EPA regulations have not been updated to reflect research showing the chemical poses serious health risks at significantly lower levels than previously thought.

“The fact that Sterigenics and companies in Lake County all appear to be operating within their permits doesn’t mean the chemical is any safer,” U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth said, “but rather shows us that regulations limiting ethylene oxide emissions are woefully inadequate to protect our families and our children.”

While neighborhood air testing provided key evidence in the Sterigenics investigation in Willowbrook and the U.S. EPA has agreed to collect more samples near the facility, neither the federal nor the state EPA offices would commit to testing for ethylene oxide in neighborhoods surrounding Medline and Vantage.