Despite Protests, Lake County Ethylene Oxide Emissions Remain Unaddressed
Less than a month ago, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (“Illinois EPA”) ordered Sterigenics to temporarily close its plant in Willowbrook over concerns of dangerous levels of ethylene oxide emissions. The closure followed concerning reports stating that Willowbrook’s high cancer rate was tied to ethylene oxide emissions. But many residents living less than an hour away are feeling forgotten, as facilities in their neighborhoods are emitting similar levels of ethylene oxide into the air with impunity.
Last November, we reported that areas in Waukegan, IL were found to have cancer risks at more than five times the national average. Waukegan is home to a Medline Industries facility that uses ethylene oxide to sterilize medical equipment. Likewise, a Vantage Specialty Chemicals plant in nearby Gurnee, IL also emits high levels of ethylene oxide. By the EPA’s measurement, Vantage released 6,412 pounds of ethylene oxide in 2014—more than Sterigenics or Medline during the same period.
Despite the decisive action in shuttering Sterigenics in the interest of public safety, the Illinois EPA has signaled that no immediate action will be taken against the Medline and Vantage facilities. The Chicago Tribune reported that Gurnee Mayor Kristina Kovarik was told that neither the state or federal EPA was ready to provide ethylene oxide testing in Lake County. They also refused a request to hold a town hall meeting on the issue.
The lack of response to their concerns has left many residents of Waukegan and Gurnee feeling isolated and abandoned. Some have turned their frustration into activism, travelling to Springfield to meet with state legislators to draw attention to the issue, or attending village board meetings to plead for action. Groups like Stop EtO in Lake County have cropped up across social media to offer support and a way to share information among the community.
In light of the EPA’s hesitance to act, some local residents have advocated for independent air testing performed by an outside firm, much like Willowbrook. Willowbrook’s independent 30-day air monitoring program is credited with finding not only the extreme daily fluctuations, but also the highest levels of ethylene oxide ever recorded in the area.
“We cannot wait for the EPA to do this (testing),” Waukegan resident Christy Diaz said during a recent city council meeting. “We have to take action now. . . . The residents of the west side of Waukegan deserve to have the same action that the residents in Willowbrook did, and have that testing done to ensure the protection of our families.”
Wexler Wallace is currently investigating claims regarding ethylene oxide emissions. If you or a loved one are a resident of the affected areas and have suffered injury due to ethylene oxide exposure, please submit the contact form below to discuss your potential claim with one of our attorneys.