Medline shuts down Waukegan plant to comply with Illinois' new ethylene oxide emissions law

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Wednesday, January 22, 2020
Medline Industries shuts down Waukegan plant
Medline Industries has temporarily closed in north suburban Waukegan as it works to meet new state standards for ethylene oxide.

WAUKEGAN, Ill. (WLS) -- Medline Industries has temporarily closed in north suburban Waukegan as it works to meet new state standards for ethylene oxide, a cancer-causing chemical.

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In a written statement to ABC7, the Illinois EPA said: "Illinois EPA's responsibility is to ensure the facility is in compliance with the Matt Haller Act. We have been in frequent contact with the entity to monitor progress toward compliance with state law. When it became evident they were not going to meet the deadline, Illinois EPA ensured they ceased operations."

A spokesperson for Medline told ABC7 the company voluntarily shut down about a month ago as they complete construction of emissions abatement equipment.

With more than 700 employees - the large majority of whom live in Waukegan - Medline is the private largest employer in the city, the company said. A spokesperson said they are committed to controlling dangerous emissions of ethylene oxide.

"We care deeply about the city of Waukegan and the residents who live near our facility, certainly our employees," Medline spokesperson Jesse Greenberg said.

Nevertheless, some residents say they are worried about ethylene oxide emissions, which they say have been measured at unsafe levels in the past. They gathered for an informational meeting a couple weeks ago.

Laura Forman and her four children live near the plant.

"You can't catch 100% and any amount could cause cancer in my children," Forman said. "Is one life worth it?"

Medline manufactures medical equipment and uses ethylene oxide to sterilize the bulk of surgical supplies, including everything in standard surgical kits. The spokesperson says use of the chemical is one of the only FDA approved methods for sterilization of medical supplies. The company says it is now putting in about ten million dollars worth of upgrades to further limit eto emissions.

"With this new technology, we're going to be capturing 99.9% of all the ethylene oxide that we use at that facility," Greenberg said.

Laura Forman said she's not sure what to believe because the company has not been open with them, but she and others in her group will be following closely.

"I personally have friends who have suffered cancer and I know many others do know a lot of people and it's a problem," Forman said. "It should not be emitted near neighborhoods."

Greenberg said the new emissions abatement equipment should be in place and the facility should be ready to reopen in about a week.

The Lake County Health Department has been monitoring the air quality near the plant and they said they plan to continue to do so once Medline reopens for the next 30 days.