Toxic Tuesdays

CHEJ highlights several toxic chemicals and the communities fighting to keep their citizens safe from harm.

Ethylene Oxide

Ethylene Oxide (EtO) is a colorless gas with a slightly sweet odor. It is used in making a variety of products including antifreeze, plastics, detergents, and adhesives. It is also used as a sterilizer for medical equipment and others that cannot be sterilized by steam. Ethylene Oxide can be found in the air surrounding industrial factories including chemical manufacturers and sterilizers.

Exposure to Ethylene Oxide is extremely dangerous. The EPA classifies it as a class 1 human carcinogen; there are no safe breathing levels. EtO is known to cause breast cancer and leukemia, and children are especially susceptible to its effects. The EPA states that EtO significantly contributes to elevated cancer risks in some areas of the US. CHEJ has been working with the Concerned Citizens of Lake County who are fighting cancerous EtO emissions in Lake County, IL (part of suburban Chicago). There are 2 facilities, 3 miles apart, that emit EtO: Vantage Specialty in Gurnee and Medline Industries in Waukegan. Vantage is a chemical production company and Medline is a medical sterilization company. Both are located within ‘light industrial’ business parks. We discovered the companies’ emissions in Fall 2018, via a breaking news Chicago Tribune article regarding 3 EtO emitters in the Chicago area. The third emitter, Sterigenics (Willowbrook, IL) was not in our area and closed in Fall 2019 due to community, media, and legislative pressure (and rumored back-door industrial competitive pressure from Medline).

There are over 150,000 Lake County residents and over 100 schools/daycares within 5 miles of both Vantage and Medline, along with numerous large Gurnee family tourist attractions (Gurnee Mills, Six Flags Great America/Hurricane Harbor, and Great Wolf Lodge waterpark). Medline also has 4 warehouses in our area that are potentially used to off-gas EtO-sterilized products in an unregulated manner. Medline is currently building a 5th Lake County warehouse. Many area doctors tell us they see far more cancer cases in Lake County than in other Chicagoland areas.

Our goal is to end EtO emissions in Lake County’s highly populated, economically and racially diverse area.  There are large apartment complexes approximately 0.25 miles from Medline and an elementary school 2000 feet away from Vantage.  The census tracks near Medline appeared on the most recent NATA map for 90-100% cancer risk. There is no information for areas near
Vantage on the same NATA map due to a ‘coding error,’ however in 2014 Vantage emitted 6,412 lbs of EtO gas, more than either Sterigenics or Medline during that same period. For more information about dioxins, check out our website:

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