Senator Melinda Bush discusses Ethylene OxideLake County News-Sun - February 22, 2019 | original article

Joining a chorus of voices demanding air quality testing in Lake County areas near local two plants generating ethylene oxide emissions, state Sen. Melinda Bush on Friday sent a letter Friday to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and introduced a joint resolution in the General Assembly calling for the testing.

The Grayslake Democrat said in a letter to EPA officials that the major gulf between ethylene oxide (EtO) emission self-reporting results from Sterigenics in Willowbrook and subsequent ambient air monitoring by the federal EPA in the area around the company led to it being shut down by order of the Illinois EPA.

“Public health and safety must be the state and federal government’s overriding concern,” Bush said in the letter. “These reports prove it is unwise, and unsafe, to trust emitters of carcinogens to accurately self-report their emissions.

“The USEPA simply must conduct its own air monitoring to protect the public interest,” Bush added.

Bush also said a joint Senate resolution, calling for federal EPA ambient air testing for EtO in Lake County near the Vantage and Medline plants in Gurnee and Waukegan respectively, was filed Friday and expected to be heard by the Senate March 5.

Bush added she believes the resolution will pass both the Senate and House quickly and be forwarded to federal officials in the near future.

While Bush is carrying the resolution in the Senate, state Rep. Joyce Mason, D-Gurnee, will carry it in the House.

Although some resident groups are demanding “independent testing” near the Vantage plant in Gurnee and the Medline plant in Waukegan, Bush and other local officials stressed the need for federal EPA involvement.

“Hopefully, things start to move really fast from here on out,” said Tea Tanaka, a member of the Stop EtO in Lake County organization, which has attended Gurnee and Waukegan municipal meetings asking for testing.

“Things are moving in the right direction,” she said with regard to public involvement and the number of officials becoming involved with the issue. “We think independent testing is paramount (to) getting the EPA out here to do its job.”

But Gurnee Mayor Kristina Kovarik said that the village, which it has spent months researching and meeting with officials at all levels over the EtO issue, does not have the authority to test or regulate emissions, and therefore would not be able to use local tests to mandate changes.

Bush also indicated the EPA is the agency with the ability to most quickly respond to the concerns and questions in Lake County with regard to both what is happening at the plants and, if necessary, what actions will be taken to correct it.

Kovarik added that the village has just updated its ongoing information section on ethylene oxide on the village’s website, and suggested concerned residents visit the site. She said the U.S EPA has also updated a website devoted to the issue at

At a recent Gurnee Village Board meeting, Larry Mackey, a deputy director of health services with the Lake County Health Department, said that both Vantage and Medline have agreed to voluntarily submit to additional studies by certified experts.

Both companies also agreed to install more emission-control equipment at their plants to reduce EtO output, Mackey said, and that project could be completed by this spring, weather permitting.

In a statement Thursday, Medline said it is in compliance with standards for EtO treatment and emission, but also supported additional studies on the issue.

“We have been actively working with the IEPA to obtain the permit necessary to install additional abatement technology. Medline already has in place two emissions control systems that operate at over 99 percent efficiency — the current EPA requirement for reducing (ethylene oxide) in emissions,” the company said in the statement.

“We agree with the EPA’s statement that more scientific study and analysis is needed to determine the actual point of risk of (ethylene oxide) emissions,” the Medline statement added. “(Medline) is open to ambient air testing around our healthcare sterilization facility, and it’s equally important to get context for (ethylene oxide) levels in other areas where there are no such facilities.”

According to the Medline statement, “past testing in Illinois has shown levels of (ethylene oxide) in areas where no (ethylene oxide) facilities are located. To ensure our community has all the information we need for good decisions, better information is needed about normal levels of (ethylene oxide) in the air today, and we must ensure the testing methods are well understood and validated.”

Vantage representatives also said they are open to ambient air testing in the area, with the same caveat.

“Since the recent concerns arose around (ethylene oxide), we have been working closely with the U.S. and Illinois EPA, and we will continue to coordinate with those agencies to do everything we can to demonstrate our commitment to safety, including air monitoring around our Gurnee facility, whether conducted by us or public health agencies,” Drew Richardson, Gurnee site leader for Vantage, said Friday.

“But it is critically important that such monitoring accurately differentiate between any (ethylene oxide) emissions from Vantage and background (ethylene oxide) that is already present in the environment from other natural and man-made sources, such as car exhaust in highly trafficked areas,” he said.

According to a Vantage official, unlike many facilities using ethylene oxide, the company does not use the chemical as a medical sterilizing agent, using it instead as an additive for some consumer products.

A company spokeswoman said Friday that Vantage uses ethylene oxide to make other ingredients for use in a variety of industries, including food and baking ingredients, personal care and beauty products, textile manufacturing and lubricants. This is done “in a closed, controlled process that limits ethylene oxide emissions,” she said.

Lake County Health Department officials announced Friday they have visited Medline and Vantage to gather information and convey the public’s concerns.

“Along with the Village of Gurnee and City of Waukegan, the Health Department is taking measures to assure air monitoring will occur and has urged the U.S. EPA to conduct a town hall meeting in Lake County,” officials said in a statement. “The Health Department will continue to use all available resources to protect the health of Lake County residents and will continue to share information as it becomes available.”

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