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.
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.”
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
In the documentary, actress America Ferrera follows Clean Power Lake County activists as, over the course of nearly a year, they collect and deliver petitions to the Waukegan City Council, journey to Springfield to advocate for clean energy policy that can provide green jobs, and appeal directly to NRG Energy to work with the community to transition its Waukegan power plant beyond coal.
Audience members will have the chance to meet local activists featured in the film, learn what Clean Power Lake County is doing to move Waukegan beyond coal, and talk with local leaders about how community members can work together to revitalize the Waukegan lakefront.
March11, 6:30 p.m.:Before the Flood (with Spanish subtitles), College of Lake County, A-Wing Auditorium, 19351 W. Washington St., Grayslake
The Lake County showings are free and open to the public. A $6 donation per film is appreciated. For more information, movie trailers and tickets, go to www.oneearthfilmfest.org/films-by-date.
The Lake County screenings are part of the Midwest’s premier environmental film festival. Local sponsors are Citizens Climate Lobby, Clean Power Lake County, College of Lake County, Faith in Place, Liberty Prairie Foundation, Prairie Crossing Charter School, Sierra Club: Woods & Wetlands Group, and Wild Ones: Lake to Prairie Chapter.
Eight members of the Clean Power Lake County Campaign attended a March 9, 2016, hearing held by the Illinois Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights to tell how pollution from NRG Energy’s coal-fired power plant disproportionately affects minority and low-income residents in Waukegan.
Representing Clean Power Lake County and its coalition partners were Dulce Ortiz and Peggy Jones of Waukegan; David Villalobos, Waukegan Fourth Ward Alderman; Celeste Flores of Most Blessed Trinity Catholic Parish (Waukegan); Susana Figueroa of Faith in Place; Brian Urbaszewski of Respiratory Health Association; Barbara Klipp of Incinerator Free Lake County; and Christine Nannicelli of the Sierra Club.
Clean Power Lake County is concerned that pollution from the coal plant is impairing air and water quality and contaminating soil. The plant also reduces access to open space.
The findings of the Illinois Advisory Committee will support the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights’ 2016 federal statutory enforcement report on environmental justice.
“As the product of an Illinois community that has suffered from environmental racism, I commend our Illinois Advisory Committee for addressing this issue. This will ensure that affected Illinois communities will be a prominent part of our national report to the President and Congress on environmental justice for communities of color,” said Martin Castro, chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is an independent, bipartisan agency charged with studying and advising the President and Congress on civil rights matters and issuing federal enforcement reports.
For information about the reports and meetings of the Commission and its State Advisory Committees, visit www.usccr.gov.