On March 27, 2019, Celeste Flores and Diana Burdette went to EPA headquarters in Washington, DC, to testify on the need to protect members of marginalized communities from toxic ethylene oxide (EtO) emissions. They spoke against the reversal of EPA’s Integrated Risk Information Systems data and urged EPA to follow its mandate to protect human health and the environment.
On April 26, they added their voices to those of many other environmental justice advocates by submitting their formal comment on behalf of Clean Power Lake County.
Key points in the comment:
EPA is using this rulemaking about hydrochloric acid production facilities to attempt to undercut the independent, scientific standard for ethylene oxide (which is causing extremely high cancer risk in many communities across the country), and EPA must abandon this attempt
Communities of color and low-income communities are disproportionately exposed to pollution from hydrochloric acid facilities
EPA is basing its proposal for little or no regulation of hydrochloric acid facility emissions on underreported and underestimated data
EPA claims that hydrochloric acid facility emissions are “acceptable” but is ignoring many emissions and risks that would demonstrate greater harm that requires reduction
EPA must consider and address the multiple and cumulative impacts that many communities face
Celeste Flores is Lake County Outreach Director for Faith in Place and co-chair of Clean Power Lake County. Diana Burdette is a member of Clean Power Lake County’s EtO team.
Clean Power Lake County is denouncing Illinois HB 1633, a bill designed to silence environmental activists and protect fossil fuel industry profits by threatening steep fines, felony charges and lengthy jail sentences for activists who exercise their freedom to protest deadly pollution and carbon emissions.
Opponents of the bill, dubbed the “Guilty by Association bill,” include social justice, environmental and faith-based groups: ACLU, Action Now Institute, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights, Chicago Jobs with Justice, Faith in Place, Fox Valley Citizens for Peace & Justice, Illinois Environmental Council, Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO), National Lawyers Guild, Natural Resources Defense Defending Rights & Dissent, Northern Illinois Jobs with Justice, People’s Action, SOIL Save Our Illinois Land, Sunrise Movement Chicago, The People’s Lobby, the Sierra Club, and Union of Concerned Scientists.
At a downtown Chicago press conference on April 25, 2019, activists said HB 1633 would discourage people from exercising their right to free speech by significantly increasing punishments for activities that are already illegal under current law. And that would clear the way for fossil fuel companies to expand pollution across Illinois, especially in communities of color.
Communities of color suffer the worst pollution by dirty energy companies. They also contend with over-policing and disproportionate rates of incarceration.
“As we all know, African American and Latinx communities are disproportionately affected by corporate polluters and Waukegan is no different. We have a coal-fired power plant on Waukegan’s lakefront that is the largest polluter in Lake County, Illinois. Our black and brown sisters and brothers have to deal with the health effects of this pollution and, most concerning, a report done by the Lake County Health Department showed that in Waukegan 1 in 3 children have asthma or asthma-like symptoms, which is well above the national average,” said Celeste Flores, Lake County Outreach Director for Faith in Place and co-chair of Clean Power Lake County.
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.
If Waukegan’s coal-fired power plant closed tomorrow, all of our lights would stay on—and 143 lives would be saved between 2022 and 2030, according to Soot to Solar: Illinois’ Clean Energy Transition, an analysis released October 24, 2018, by Union of Concerned Scientists.
In fact, the faster Illinois can retire its aging, inefficient coal plants—a critical step in the clean energy transition—the greater the benefits will be for communities across the state, according to the analysis.
Here’s how closing up to nine dirty coal plants will help Illinoisans:
Reduce CO2 emissions by up to 51%
Prevent more than 1,100 premature deaths
Save each consumer household nearly $100 a year on their electricity bills
Celeste Flores, Lake County Outreach Director for Faith in Place and co-chair of Clean Power Lake County, and Jessica Collingsworth, Lead Midwest Energy Policy Analyst/Advocate at Union of Concerned Scientists) discussed the energy and health benefits of a just transition to renewable energy report on WBEZ’s Worldview on November 13, 2018. Listen to the WBEZ program here.
Tens of thousands of residents in western Waukegan, Gurnee, Park City, North Chicago, Warren Township, and Naval Station Great Lakes, are at risk from ethylene oxide (EtO) emissions — the same cancer-causing chemicals that prompted Gov. J.B. Pritzker to order the shutdown of Sterigenics in DuPage County.
And that is unacceptable!
Clean Power Lake County and Faith in Place have worked actively on this issue since November 2018, when an article about cancer-causing ethylene oxide gas emissions in Waukegan and Gurnee appeared on page 1 of the November 4, 2018, Chicago Tribune. Our own Celeste Flores and Rev. Eileen Shanley-Roberts were key sources in that article.
That was when we learned that Medline Industries in Waukegan and Vantage Specialty Chemicals in Gurnee posed significant health risks to our communities.
Officials from Lake County, Waukegan and Gurnee knew about the hazards before the Chicago Tribune article was published. However, they did not warn neighbors of the hazards.
More than 19,000 people live within areas at risk from ethylene oxide emitted at the Medline Industries plant in Waukegan (near Skokie Highway and Casimir Pulaski Drive—just west of Greenbelt Forest Preserve).
More than 23,000 people live within areas at risk from ethylene oxide emitted at the Vantage Specialty Chemicals plant in Gurnee (near Route 41 and Delaney Road).
What’s happening on ethylene oxide in Lake County
February 12, 2019: U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), along with U.S. Representatives Brad Schneider (D-IL-10), Bill Foster (D-IL-11), Dan Lipinski (D-IL-03), and Sean Casten (D-IL-06), introduced bills that would hold the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency accountable for its poor oversight of ethylene oxide emissions.
March 27, 2019: U.S. Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Tom Carper (D-DE) sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler seeking information related to the agency’s recent decision to question EPA career staff’s assessment of the health risks and political appointees’ handling of potentially illegal releases of ethylene oxide (EtO). They also requested documents shedding light on the Trump EPA’s enforcement efforts at the Sterigenics Illinois plant and its management of risks posed by EtO at facilities nationwide.
March 27, 2019: Celeste Flores and Diana Burdette testified in Washington, D.C., on the need to protect members of marginalized communities from toxic ethylene oxide emissions.
April 2, 2019: U.S. Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) asked the Department of Homeland Security to revise its characterization of ethylene oxide, as required under the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standard, as both flammable and explosive.
April 8, 2019: The Lake County Health Department and Community Health Center, City of Waukegan, and Village of Gurnee officials announced plans to hire one vendor to collect air quality samples from four sites near Vantage Specialty Chemicals in Gurnee and four sites near Medline Industries in Waukegan. Read more.
April 10, 2019: The Illinois Senate passed SB 1852, requiring facilities to alert nearby property owners and local government of ethylene oxide leaks, and SB 1854, restricting and testing for fugitive emissions of ethylene oxide.
April 12, 2019: U.S. Representative Brad Schneider (D-IL-10), spoke on the House floor regarding the need for ambient air testing of ethylene oxide in Waukegan and Gurnee so families can have confidence the air they and their children breathe is safe.
What is ethylene oxide?
Ethylene oxide (EtO) is a colorless gas used in the manufacturing of several industrial chemicals and as a sterilizing agent for medical equipment and supplies. People can be exposed to EtO through direct inhalation, ingestion, or contact to the skin, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
In December 2016, the U.S. EPA updated the risk status of ethylene oxide from “probably carcinogenic to humans” to “carcinogenic to humans.”
It’s time for 100% clean energy in Illinois. Are you in?
Clean Power Lake County is definitely in! We are proud to support the Clean Energy Jobs Act (HB 3624/SB 2132), which would set a path for Illinois to be 100% powered by renewable energy, increase energy efficiency, and invigorate the state’s clean energy sector in an equitable way.
Dulce Ortiz, co-chair of Clean Power Lake County, explains why this bill is so important:
Communities like Waukegan deserve a clean energy future and it’s time for the state of Illinois to be a leader and pass the Clean Energy Jobs Act!
For far too long, frontline communities have historically borne and, to this day, continue to bear the greatest brunt of injustice when it comes to the environment. This legislation says that that no community should be left behind as Illinois builds up its clean and renewable energy economy.
We can do this!
One of the pillars on this bill is to achieve a carbon-free power sector by 2030.
This bill directs the Illinois EPA to begin a comprehensive stakeholder process to reduce harmful pollution from power plants to zero by 2030.
Many coal plant communities around the state have suffered the impacts of coal pollution just like Waukegan. A responsible transition beyond coal would address the largest point source of carbon pollution in Lake County, which is located on the Waukegan lakefront.
We recognize that there are real people, our neighbors, who have worked for years in the fossil fuel industry. That is why this bill calls for the creation of Clean Energy Empowerment Zones, to support communities and workers who are impacted by the decline of fossil fuel generation.
The Clean Energy Jobs Act — introduced February 28, 2019, by partners in the Illinois Clean Jobs coalition — would move Illinois to 100% renewable energy by 2050, cut carbon pollution from the state’s power sector by 2030, and create steps to electrify the transportation sector. At the same time, the legislation would help keep a lid on energy bills and lead to economic benefits, especially in the form of new jobs, for communities that need them the most.
The bill was drafted with the input of communities across the state, including participants in more than 60 “Listen. Lead. Share.” events.
Currently, the Clean Energy Jobs Act is working its way through House committees in the Illinois General Assembly.
Clean Power Lake County joined forces with other environmental, faith and civic organizations in Waukegan and surrounding Lake County communities on December 7, 2017, to raise $5,236 to help Puerto Rico hurricane victims and highlight the critical need to act on the climate crisis.
The climate action event, held at the Puerto Rican Society in Waukegan, was hosted by Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor, Sierra Club, the Puerto Rican Society and Clean Power Lake County.
At the time of the benefit, more than 10 weeks after Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico, the majority of the island still lacked reliable electrical power and safe drinking water.
The ongoing needs of Puerto Rico residents, especially in light of inadequate response by President Trump’s administration, motivated people attending the benefit to act.
“I am determined to make a difference for Puerto Rico. Like a small grain of sand, from a small organization in Waukegan, I will make a difference,” said Lucy Rios of the Puerto Rican Society.
Among those making donations to help hurricane victims were members of the Waukegan High School JROTC. They presented $1,000 to Rios.
Community members also donated supplies such as bottled water, diapers, flashlights, and batteries.
“Hurricane Maria may have fallen out of the headlines, but our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico still need us to step up for them,” Lawlor said. “Frequent, severe storms like Hurricane Maria are unmistakable warnings of the escalating impacts of climate change. Washington’s failure to act leaves our economic future more uncertain and the destruction of our environment more rapid.”
Faith in Place, which works with houses of worship throughout Illinois to protect our land, air and water, is the first community organization to sign the pledge.
Other organizations participating in the event included Citizens Utility Board, Livable Lake County, Mano A Mano, Moms Clean Air Force, Sierra Club Woods and Wetlands Group, Waukegan Township, and Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc.