Ethylene Oxide: Lake County Moves Forward on Air Test Plans

Officials expect to complete plans for air testing in Waukegan and Gurnee in early May. [Stuart Miles/Stockvault photo]

After speaking earlier this week with Lake County Health Department officials Mark Pfister and Larry Mackey, members of Clean Power Lake County’s ethylene oxide (EtO) team say there is good reason to be excited about moving forward to document and address EtO pollution in our community.

“It is important to note that what is happening here is rather unprecedented,” said Dr. Dylan Burdette of Clean Power Lake County. “This is a situation where every official from Rep. Brad Schneider down to the mayors in the fenceline communities affected by EtO is amazed by the failure of the US EPA and the Illinois EPA to take action and ensure the safety of citizens in the face of what has happened 50 miles away in Willowbrook at the Sterigenics facility, and that it is an obvious environmental justice issue. That being said, our local officials are making remarkable strides, and very quickly.”

First, we are nearing the end of air modeling that will inform the placement of testing canisters surrounding the Medline Industries plant in Waukegan and the Vantage Specialty Chemicals plant in Gurnee.

As we were able to observe from the Willowbrook test case, many of the sites that were selected by the community ended up producing data that could not be used by either the EPA or the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), the wing of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) devoted to calculating risk based on exposure.

In our case, all testing locations, and the number of locations, will be set using EPA modeling of air patterns.

A vendor has been chosen to do the air sampling, and all air samples will be analyzed using EPA facilities. In order to maintain full scientific integrity, the exact testing locations will be released only after the tests have begun.

For the air testing itself, there will be some regularity of every 3 days. There also will be randomly inserted tests in order to make sure that the facilities are not gaming the system.

The initial plan for testing is 30 days. However, if there are any valid scientific reasons for extending the testing, mechanisms are set in place by Pfister at the Lake County Health Department to extend that period as needed.

The entire planning portion of the air testing is expected to be completed over the next week, with testing due to commence in June. Once the plan is complete, contracts will be sent to the participating municipalities for votes of approval. At that point, the contract will be ratified by the Lake County Board of Health and testing will commence.

As we attempt to maintain maximum transparency during this time, we will issue updates when we can. However, we will only release factual and correct information, which may take time to vet.

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