Ethylene oxide concerns in Lake County, Ill., to be addressed at town hall meeting

LAKE COUNTY, Ill. (WLS) -- There are renewed calls for two north suburban medical manufacturing plants to shut down after residents continue to worry about their health.

In June, the Lake County, Illinois, Health Department tested local air levels which found thousands of people living and working in the area are being exposed to ethylene oxide (EtO), which is frequently used to sterilize medical instruments and pharmaceutical drugs.

"Every breath you take, you're potentially breathing a carcinogen in," said Soh Tanaka, with Stop EtO Lake County.

Lake County residents said they don't know what the chemical has done to their health. They are hoping to get answers about their health concerns at a town hall meeting on ethylene oxide emissions in the country scheduled for Wednesday evening at the College of Lake County.

Many residents feel it's time to take action after Sterigenics, another medical sterilization company, announced Monday it will permanently close its facility in Willowbrook. The facility had been shut down since February due to concerns about the ethylene oxide emissions.

Health officials said both the Medline Industries in Waukegan and Vantage Specialty Chemicals in Gurnee have been releasing large amounts of ethylene oxide. EtO is known as a carcinogen that can cause aggressive forms of cancer.

"It will mutate your DNA and it will cause cancer and a lot of other diseases," Tanaka said.

The levels of EtO near both of the companies ranged from undetectable to high. The IEPA will test the levels again in October to find out what the risks are.

Both Medline Industries and Vantage Specialty Chemicals told ABC7 Chicago they have installed new emissions controls that have dropped their EtO levels, but residents said that is not enough.

"We cannot give up or we will have to breathe carcinogens, which is not acceptable," Tanaka said.
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