Following outrage that a Willowbrook sterilization plant has been pumping a cancer-causing gas into the air, a new report indicates two other production facilities in Chicago suburbs have also been emitting the toxic gas – unbeknownst to residents.
According to EPA data, at least two facilities in Lake County are releasing the same carcinogenic emission, ethylene oxide, also known as EO, into the air.
One facility includes Medline Industries in Waukegan and the other is Vantage Specialties Chemicals in Gurnee. The latter is located just two miles from Six Flags Great America and potentially puts more than 22,000 nearby residents at risk.
“We abide by all federal standards as we serve health care providers,” Lara Simmons, president of Medline's quality division, said in an email to the Chicago Tribune.
Two years ago, the EPA increased the cancer risk value from EO exposure by 30 times, based on new research. The Illinois agency said Friday it investigating the outputs at both Vantage and Medline.
"Again, Illinois EPA, in conjunction with the Attorney General’s Office, has been meeting with both sources to gather and analyze additional data to determine the appropriate course of action," the agency said in a statement.
The newest EPA report on National Air Toxics Assessments, which screens for emissions and cancer risks around production facilities like the suburban locations, indicates that in 2014, Sterigenics emitted 5,214 pounds of the toxic gas.
During that same time, Vantage put out 6,412 pounds. In 2016, that number went up to 11,541 pounds.
The EPA noted, however, that the source is "within the applicable permitting and regulatory standards, as is Medline."
Vantage said it is looking at ways to reduce its EO emissions.
“We are working with the EPA, preparing to conduct ‘fence line’ testing in the area around our property line,” the company said in a statement.
Gurnee said it is in contact with the U.S. EPA about the Vantage emissions and is closely monitoring the risk to the village.
On Tuesday, Attorney General Lisa Madigan and the DuPage County State’s Attorney filed a lawsuit against Sterigenics, calling for the plant to be shut down or emissions greatly reduced.
The suit includes one count of "causing, threatening or allowing air pollution" and one count of public nuisance carrying a health risk at its Willowbrook plant.
Sterigenics said it was disappointed the attorney general "has chosen to assert 'air pollution' and 'public nuisance' claims against the company's Willowbrook facility."
Sterigenics has for decades used the potent ethylene oxide gas to sterilize instruments and pharmaceutical drugs near populated neighborhoods.
It remains unclear what, if any, action might be taken against the additional facilities.