Ethylene Oxide: CPLC Fights Toxic Emissions in Our Community

Diana Burdette
Diana Burdette of Clean Power Lake County discusses community efforts to ban ethylene oxide emissions during an appearance on Adelante.

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.”

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Clean Energy Jobs Act: CPLC Supports Landmark Legislation

Illinois Clean Jobs Act press conference
Dulce Ortiz of Clean Power Lake County (fifth from left) and other partners in the Illinois Jobs Coalition introduce the Clean Energy Jobs Act in Springfield. [ILCJ photo]
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.

Help us pass the Clean Energy Jobs Act (HB 3624/SB 2132). Tell your legislator to vote YES!

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CPLC Helps Raise $5,200+ for Puerto Rico Hurricane Victims

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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.”

In Lake County, 17 public officials have joined Lawlor in signing the bipartisan Lake County Climate Action Pledge.

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.

The Lake County News-Sun published a nice recap of the December 6 benefit.

Schneider Supports Local Action on Climate Change

U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider of Illinois’ 10th District recently wrote a letter to Lake County residents to express his support for the three guiding principles of the Lake County Climate Action Pledge, an initiative launched in August by Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor in partnership with the Sierra Club.  

Climate change is very real and perhaps our most urgent present threat. Experience tells us and scientists confirm that failing to address climate change as a priority puts thousands of miles of coastline at risk, devastates frontline communities experiencing unexpected weather changes, and threatens the environment that generations to come should have the opportunity to cherish.

As part of this effort to address climate change as a priority, I am committed to taking steps to move our nation to cleaner, renewable energy sources, including solar, wind, and geothermal. By doing so, we can move toward reducing, and eventually ending, our dependence on fossil fuels that produce harmful greenhouse gases.

I support a responsible transition plan beyond coal and other fossil fuels and toward sustainable investment opportunities into clean, safe renewable energy sources. Our vision should be striving for 100% clean, sustainable energy solutions that address climate change and will create quality jobs in our communities. That must include reimagining and investing in climate-resilient infrastructure and transportation designs integrating vibrant walkable and bicycle-friendly communities.

In addition, I believe that we must continue to rebuild our infrastructure—highways, bridges, ports and tunnels—which are a foundation for economic growth. We must also expand investments in green energy technologies with a focus on both conservation and alternative energies. Any infrastructure package must include a focus on improving energy efficiency and promoting sustainability.

As your representative in Congress, I have, and will continue to actively fight to address the impending threat of climate change. For example, following President Trump’s misguided decision to unilaterally withdraw from the Paris Climate agreement, I introduced H. Res. 390, a resolution strongly condemning the decision and commending cities like Waukegan and other towns across the Tenth District that have pledged to continue honoring the emission reduction goals of the Paris Agreement. The resolution also urges the Administration to reverse its position on the Paris Agreement. I am honored and proud that more than 180 of my colleagues have signed on this resolution as cosponsors.

Earlier this year, I introduced H.R. 1812, the Congressional Leadership In Mitigating Administration Threats to the Earth (or CLIMATE) Act to prevent the implementation of the executive order undercutting the Clean Power Plan and weakening restrictions on coal mining. I also remain committed to, and spoke on the House floor in defense of, one of our most magnificent natural wonders: the Great Lakes, as well as the important work of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The five lakes contain one-fifth of the world’s fresh water and are vitally important to the economy and quality of life of our District. Unfortunately, President Trump has proposed to completely eliminate this critical program while also proposing severe cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). That is why I sent a letter to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior and Environment in support of full funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in FY 2018 and was pleased to see that the bill passed out of the Appropriations Committee restored funding for this important program.

Rolling back regulations and laws designed to ensure we have clean air, clean water, and a healthy environment is unacceptable. I invite you to join me in the fight against such actions that would result in degradation and incalculable damage to our environment and to work together to protect our environment for generations to come.

For more information on Lake County Climate Action Pledge, see our September 17, 2017, Launching the Lake County Climate Pledge post.

Launching the Lake County Climate Action Pledge

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At a time when the federal government has abdicated its role in climate leadership, public officials and residents across the country are stepping forward to take local action against the climate crisis.

Leading the way in Lake County, Illinois, is Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor. He recently launched an initiative in partnership with the Sierra Club to encourage local community leaders and public officials to deliver local, bipartisan action on the climate crisis.

“With vision and determination, Lake County can move beyond coal, toward a 100% clean energy future, and invest in fiscally and environmentally sustainable infrastructure. Climate action isn’t just an issue for our president to fail on or Congressional leaders to ignore. Climate action needs local leaders to step up and lead us forward, and it’s going to start right here in Lake County!” Lawlor said.

Lawlor announced the initiative, the Lake County Climate Action Pledge, before a crowd of 175 Lake County residents and public officials who gathered at the Waukegan lakefront for the 4th Annual Clean Power Lake County Waukegan Beach Rally and Cleanup.

The new initiative consists of three pillars:

  • Move Lake County beyond coal
  • Adopt ambitious clean energy goals
  • Build climate-resilient infrastructure

The solutions to these issues are related to solutions to serious social issues, said Dulce Ortiz, a Waukegan resident who spoke at the rally on behalf of the Sierra Club.

“We sit at an unprecedented and, frankly, dark moment in our country’s history that has to be spoken to—when the President refuses to denounce racism and white supremacy, when immigrant communities and Muslims are under attack, when the head of the EPA is a climate denier and is actively rolling back critical environmental policies, leaving us to protect our own communities,” Ortiz said. “These are not separate issues: They are absolutely interconnected and so, too, are their solutions. We are called to new levels of courage to speak out on these threats to our community and environment and to take decisive action at the local level in partnership with one another.”

Eight public officials have already joined Lawlor in taking the Lake County Climate Action Pledge:

  • Lake County Board Members Vance Wyatt, Diane Hewitt, Judy Martini, Mary Ross Cunningham, Sandy Hart, and Ann Maine
  • State Senator Melinda Bush
  • State Representative Sam Yingling

Both the Lake County News-Sun and Daily Herald published good recaps of the August 26 rally.

We Applaud Waukegan for Committing to Paris Agreement Goals

After over 4 years of climate/environmental advocacy, Clean Power Lake County members commend Waukegan Mayor Sam Cunningham and the City Council for committing to the Paris Climate Agreement and Compact of Mayors. [Photo by Dylan Blake.]
After more than 4 years of advocating a coal-to-clean energy plan for Waukegan, Clean Power Lake County and our partners now commend Mayor Sam Cunningham and City Council members for making a commitment to act on climate: On July 17, 2017, the Waukegan City Council unanimously passed a resolution committing the City of Waukegan to adopt, honor, and uphold the Paris Climate Agreement goals and authorizing the mayor to commit the city to the Compact of Mayors.

On the Monday night of the vote, 40-plus members of Clean Power Lake County filled the lion’s share of seats in the council chambers. We listened intently as council members voiced their votes one by one. When the eighth alderman said “aye” into the microphone, we leapt to our feet, clapping and cheering.

The City of Waukegan’s decision comes on the heels of President Donald Trump’s announcement that the United States would exit the Paris Agreement. The central aim of the historic international climate accord is to keep a global temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Waukegan now joins 357 other cities that have committed to upholding the Paris goals and reducing carbon pollution locally.

Waukegan is the only Illinois city with an active coal plant to sign on to the agreement. The coal plant is owned by New Jersey-based NRG Energy . It is the largest point source of carbon dioxide emissions in Lake County, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Coal-fired power plants are responsible for one-third of U.S. carbon emissions. Reducing carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants was the signature policy of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, designed to meet reduction targets under the Paris Agreement.

“Clean Power Lake County and our partners look forward to working with Mayor Cunningham and City Council in developing a climate action plan that moves Waukegan beyond our legacy of pollution and positions our city as a clean energy leader. This work lies hand-in-hand with the mayor’s goal to revitalize our lakefront and local economy and we encourage City Hall to not waste any time in getting started,” said Rev. Eileen Shanley-Roberts, co-chair of the Clean Power Lake County Campaign.

“Sierra Club applauds Mayor Cunningham and the City of Waukegan for their commitment to climate leadership at this critical moment in our country’s history,” said Julio Guzman, campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “We look forward to working with Mayor Cunningham in developing a strong and just plan to reduce carbon pollution and bring new clean energy investments and jobs to Waukegan. After years of community members speaking out on climate change and urging Waukegan to move beyond coal, this marks an important step forward in charting a new course on environmental leadership for our city.”

Now let’s get to work and reach those goals. Click here to find out how you can get involved.

 

Advocating Big Ideas for 2050

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Preventing urban sprawl, controlling carbon emissions, and protecting water supplies are among the top challenges facing Chicago regional planners, according to Lake County residents attending a June 29, 2016, workshop about the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) ON TO 2050 plan.

Approximately 50 members of the Clean Power Lake County Campaign, Livable Lake County, and other community groups participated in the recent workshop in Waukegan, Illinois. The workshop was organized by the League of Women Voters of Lake County.

The workshop touched on land use, water, open space, sustainability, community development, transportation, and other growth-oriented topics.

Here are some of the “2050 big ideas” that Waukegan workshop participants offered to address looming challenges:

  • Recognize that environmental opportunities are economic opportunities—especially when overlaid with equity considerations.
  • Adopt policies and regulations that foster sustainable transportation, clean energy, and recycling, to mitigate climate change.
  • Promote creative ways to reduce carbon emissions, including improved transportation planning.
  • Make mature cities more attractive and livable, with high-density cores, to limit urban sprawl.
  • Encourage new types of in-fill development to limit sprawl and the need to invest in new infrastructure.
  • Decommission the Route 53 corridor to preserve open space, clean air, and livability.
  • Connect public transit to jobs, especially for people who work second and third shifts.
  • Create corporate-sponsored van pools to job-heavy areas like business parks.
  • Promote express busses.
  • Coordinate brownfield solar redevelopment.
  • Consolidate overlapping governmental units.
  • Ensure that elected officials reflect the make-up of their communities

CMAP will continue to collect input about the ON TO 2050 draft snapshot through August 15, 2016.