More testing ordered air near 2 north suburban plants test high for ethylene oxide

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WAUKEGAN, Ill. — The tests are underway near Vantage Specialty Chemicals in Gurnee and Medline Industries in Waukegan.

Both plants use the carcinogenic chemical ethylene oxide.

The ethylene oxide is a chemical in the air and results from test earlier this summer show levels are high enough to warrant even more testing.

According to experts, regular exposure to 2.1 micrograms of the chemical per cubic meter of air could lead to more than 6 cases of cancer for every 1,000 people exposed. At the Waukegan community near Pulaski Road and South Shields Drive, about a half-mile away from Medline, tests showed ethylene oxide levels was at the highest after 30 days of air quality testing. The readings showed a 10, roughly five times that number. The five highest levels were all found in the area.

“We started covering our faces because we didn’t know how serious it was,” one resident said.

Waukegan Mayor Sam Cunningham said he’s frustrated and concerned about the unanswered questions.

“Now that we have that information, what do we do now?” he said. “How does this data work? What does it mean for us? Now that it’s here, what are you going to do with it? And help us with the process so we all can move forward.”

Earlier this year, Sterigenics in Willowbrook was effectively shut down when cancer risks from exposure to the chemical were 10 times higher than what the EPA allowed. The ethylene oxide was the problem there too.

However, it is too early to make true comparisons with the Sterigenics situation. The level of risk takes into account many variables like wind speed and direction, among other things.

People living near Vantage Specialty Chemicals and Medline are hoping further testing ordered for this fall will reveal more to the same chemical experts who oversaw the Sterigencs testing. Their interpretation of the numbers and analysis of the situation is aimed at improving public safety.

“It is a tough waiting game. That’s where the frustration lies,” Cunningham said.

Medline responded to the test results and said, in part:

We have partially completed installing new controls that will abate more than 99.99 percent of all EO used…  Approximately halfway through that installation, The average EO parts per billion readings are lower than what is emitted by propane grills, auto exhaust, gas lawnmowers and diesel engines.


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