Lake County officials measuring ethylene oxide levels

LAKE COUNTY, Ill. (WLS) -- Officials in Lake County are conducting a study to measure the levels of a cancer-causing chemical put out by two companies in Gurnee and Waukegan.

Workers placed 10 air monitors around Gurnee and Waukegan on Thursday to determine how much ethylene oxide (EtO) is present in the air. The Environmental Protection Agency reclassified the chemical in 2016 from a potential carcinogen to a carcinogen. EtO forced Sterigenics, a Willowbrook-based medical supply sterilization plant, to shut down in February. EtO is utilized in Lake County by Medline Industries and Vantage Specialty Chemicals. Medline has said that EtO is the only clinically- and scientifically-valid sterilization method for its supplies.

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"We have four sites surrounding the Medline location; we also have four sites near Vantage and we have two remote sites," said Mark Pfister, executive director of the Lake County Health Department.

Results are expected within two to three weeks.

The hope is not to have the high levels that were found in Willowbrook but some worried residents, who have formed a group called "Stop EtO Lake County," are concerned that current testing isn't enough. Tea Tanaka, a member of the group, wants the state and federal levels of the agency to test on a regular basis.

"The proposed plan for air monitoring, we feel, is not fully adequate," she said. "They need to be beefed up by adding more canisters around each facility and by extending the time of testing."

RELATED: EPA: Residents within 1.5 miles of Sterigenics plant had up to 10x higher risk of cancer

Tanaka and other residents question why the EPA was willing to test in DuPage County but not Lake County.

Medline is in the process of installing new emissions control equipment. Vantage said it has already put a new system in place.

But some residents worry the damage is already done.

"We cannot take back the harm that is being done to the population before," Tanaka said. "At least we can do something to prevent it for the future."

It will ultimately be up to the Illinois and U.S. EPA whether to take action against the companies, depending on the test results. In the meantime, the Lake County Health Department has requested the Illinois Department of Public Health to conduct a cancer cluster analysis similar to the study the agency did in Willowbrook.

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