Higher levels of cancer-causing ethylene oxide detected near 2 plants in Lake County, Illinois

LAKE COUNTY, Ill. (WLS) -- Results from recent air testing has detected higher levels of cancer-causing ethylene oxide near two plants in Lake County, Illinois.

Twelve canisters are in place in Lake County to detect ethylene oxide, which is invisible, difficult to detect and extremely toxic. It is suspected to be coming from two industrial facilities: Medline industries in Waukegan and Vantage Chemicals in Gurnee.

Residents say they want answers after initial testing over the summer found elevated levels of ethylene oxide.

"Companies say they're good neighbors, but they're profiting on the back of our own communities and making our own communities sick and making us need those products, which is completely an injustice," said Celeste Flores, who lives with two miles of both facilities.

The concerns come in the wake of protests over the Sterigenics plant in Willowbrook, which eventually led to the state issuing a seal order and the company eventually deciding to close the facility. Scientists say it's too soon to say whether ethylene oxide is causing similar problems here.

"It's really important to collect these data over a long time so that we can provide the information and they can tell us what the actual health risks are," said Larry Mackey, Lake County Environmental Health.

"It's a step in a series of things that need to happen so that we can actually say. yes there are cases of cancer that are correlated with living near these facilities," said Dylan Burdett, Clean Power Lake County.

The county has held public hearings on the issue here and both companies have installed additional emissions controls to limit the ethylene oxide that escapes.

Experts say it's unclear at this point whether those controls have helped. Celeste Flores is waiting for answers.

"A lot of people have shared stories that they believe their family members got cancer because they were breathing ethylene oxide and did not know it," she said.

A spokesperson for Medline said "Medline is encouraged by this initial data, especially since we are still in the process of finalizing the installation of additional redundant emission technologies."

Scientists caution that the test results are preliminary at this point and no conclusions can be drawn yet. Nonetheless, the Illinois EPA is paying for these tests to determine if the chemical is causing any health risks, and if so, who they might affect.
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