Here is what has happened since we found out about EtO emissions in Lake County:
1) We were made aware of Ethylene oxide (EtO) emissions in our air from Michael Hawthorne’s Chicago Tribune article, published Nov 2, 2018: https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/breaking/ct-met-lake-county-cancer-risks-pollution-20181028-story.html
Michael Hawthorne has since published many more articles on this environmental subject. Many of them can be found at www.stopeto.com
EtO is an odorless gas which is used to sterilize materials and produce some consumer products. It sterilizes by attacking and damaging the DNA of organisms, including humans. This makes it a dangerous Class 1A carcinogen.
Two facilities are releasing it in Lake County: Vantage Specialty Chemicals in Gurnee, IL and Medline Industries in Waukegan, IL. Medline uses EtO to sterilize medical supplies. Vantage uses it for non-medical products.
2) By mid-November 2018, the group Stop EtO was formed. Today, our core team is comprised of working professionals: doctors, scientist, teacher, executives, IT, realtor, and attorneys. Above all we are parents and concerned neighbors. Our mission is to stop emissions of EtO near our homes and schools. Our group has 3 goals:
Goal 1: Raise awareness of EtO emissions.
Goal 2: Get air testing around Vantage and Medline.
Goal 3: Legislation to eliminate EtO emissions.
3) From mid-Nov 2018 through end-Feb 2019, our group members:
1. Made numerous phone calls and emails to the US EPA and IL EPA demanding air testing. Both agencies kept directing us to each other; no commitments for testing were ever made.
2. Attended bi-monthly village board meetings at the Village of Gurnee demanding independent air testing to be done. We were told NO.
3. Held monthly town meetings, either in Gurnee or Waukegan, to educate the public on EtO emissions and spread awareness.
4. Started to crowdfund for the purpose of raising awareness. We purchased t-shirts, yard signs, buttons, magnetic car stickers for this purpose.
4) At end of Feb 2019, we attended a Waukegan City Council meeting and requested independent air testing from the aldermen and Waukegan Mayor. We were pleasantly surprised when the Waukegan leaders said “Yes, testing is the right thing to do”.
5) On Feb 28th, 2019, the Waukegan leaders met with, IL EPA, Lake County Health Officials (LCHD), and the town of Gurnee to discuss air testing. They decided the air testing costs were going to be equally split between Waukegan, LCHD, and Gurnee.
6) At the end of March 2019, LCHD announced that independent air testing would commence in early June 2019.
On March 28th, 2019, one of our members, Diane Mundelein, traveled to Washington DC to testify in the Congressional hearing for the proposed amendment on the HCL regulation, pertaining to the risk assessment on EtO. (The current EPA administration was trying to slip and hide EtO regulations inside HCl regulations, hoping no one would pay attention. Unfortunately for them, we were paying attention. Our legal representatives also sent them a full letter regarding this hearing - the full letter is attached to Files folder on this page). This trip was sponsored by community crowdfunding - thank you to those who supported us!
7) In mid-April, the Vantage facility finished installation of emission controls (scrubbers), which are supposed to eliminate 99.9% of EtO from being released in the air.
8) Between March – June 2019, the Stop EtO team focused on influencing and supporting the passage of legislation to regulate EtO emissions. We worked closely with our elected Senators and Representatives. In June 2019, the following IL laws were passed by both chambers and signed into law from Gov Pritzker:
· SB1852 – This senate bill addresses EtO emissions from sterilization companies; the bill was supported and influenced by our counterparts Stop Sterigenics team in Willowbrook.
· SB1854 – This senate bill addresses EtO emissions from manufacturing companies; this bill was supported and influenced by Stop EtO in Lake County.
The passage of these laws was not an easy feat. It took countless hours of phone calls, letters, postcards, signing witness slips, and general community activism. Lawmakers in Springfield had over 900+ bills for this legislative session, each bill fighting for priority over all others. The EtO emission bills needed to be priority #1. This was our biggest challenge.
We were very fortunate to have the backing and full support of all our elected legislators during this time, most notably from IL Senator Melinda Bush and Representative Joyce Mason. Without their guidance, patience, and full support, these bills would have never passed.
These bills make IL one of the strictest states to regulate EtO emissions. However, there is still a whole lot more work to be done. We fully understand that this is a marathon, not a sprint. Change is incremental. Our interests for clean air were/are/will be in direct conflict with the interests of industries who keep polluting.
9) In June 2019, LCHD paid (Gurnee/Waukegan/LCHD 3-way split) for an independent contractor to perform air testing around Vantage and Medline. Testing lasted for entire month of June; samples were collected on average 1-every-3 days, for a total of ~10 days total).
10) On July 8th 2019, Stop EtO core members met with Directors and scientists from US EPA Region 5, along with LCHD, to discuss air testing in Lake County, IL. We discussed the number of canisters and canister locations, how we considered the testing inadequate, and discussed the initial observed air testing results.
11) In July 2019, the air testing results were gradually published by LCHD. Full results can be found here: https://www.lakecountyil.gov/4188/EtO-Monitoring-Results
· US EPA considers 0.02 ug/m3 as the actionable level for EtO.
· The highest amount observed by Vantage was 1.1 ug/m3. (Reminder: Vantage already had emission controls installed, months prior to testing).
· The highest amount observed by Medline was at 10 ug/m3. (Medline started to install their emission controls in early June 2019.
This means that for the entire month of June, while air testing was occurring, Medline was in the process of installing emission controls in their facility…
The recorded levels of EtO are alarming. These emissions are orders of magnitude higher than what the US EPA considers “actionable”.
Stop EtO organized multiple rallies in Gurnee, Waukegan, and Libertyville, to demand Medline to immediately shut down EtO operations, until they no longer endanger public health. A similar request in light of the disturbing results was also made from Congressman Brad Schneider.
Stop EtO demanded for LCHD to continue testing longer for an additional 30-60 days. The request was denied.
12) August 8th, 2019, Medline requests a permit, from the City of Waukegan Planning and Zoning committee, to increase stack height in its facility. The hearing was held at Waukegan City Hall. The committee heard arguments from Medline and the EPA in favor of raising the stack to 85.3 feet from the current 60 ft. They also heard the stern objections raised by Stop EtO and members of the community. After a lengthy deliberation, the committee voted to deny recommending increasing the stack height. Stop EtOis very pleased with this decision.
An increased stack height would not reduce EtO emissions; it would only ensure emissions are diluted out to a larger area. This would impact more communities, more kids.
Maintaining the same stack height will ensure that any air testing performed *after* emission controls are installed by Medline, would make it possible to determine if the controls are efficient in reducing pollution or not. Adding another variable (taller stack) would camouflage the problem = putting lipstick on a pig. Remember:
***dilution is not the solution to pollution***
However, this vote was not a final decision on the permit request. This committee can only recommend/not recommend the request. The final decision has yet to be voted on by Waukegan City Council. The date and time of this meeting will be published on our FB page.
13) Stop EtO requested from LCHD to organize a Townhall public meeting in order to:
· Explain to Lake County residents what the air test results mean
· Notify residents of the next action steps
ATSDR is currently using the EtO air monitoring results as inputs to conduct a cancer study for Lake County. This study may take 8+ months to complete. This delay is being used as an excuse from LCHD to not have a public townhall meeting in LC now.
Please contact LCHD and demand for a public Townhall meeting to be scheduled now. We deserve it. Our taxes paid for the independent air testing. We need to know what these values mean and what the LCHD’s next step will be.
14) Looking back at these past 10 months, here is the status of our achievements so far:
Goal 1: Raise awareness of EtO emissions in our communities
This effort is currently ongoing. We started with 30 people in our FB page in Nov 2018. Then, almost no one we met had ever heard the name ‘ethylene oxide’. Now, there are currently 1400+ FB members.
From our unscientific record keeping, about ~30% of Gurnee & Waukegan residents can now recognize the chemical name and associate it with the toxic gas they’ve heard from Sterigenics in Willowbrook, IL or can recognize our branding “Stop EtO”. There is a whole lot of work yet to be done.
A side effect of spreading awareness to the community is that both Vantage and Medline have since been installing better emission controls. These would not have happened had we stayed quiet.
***Change happens only when people show up.***
Goal 2: Get air testing in neighborhoods around Vantage and Medline to understand emission levels.
This effort was successful, albeit not at the span and breadth we had advocated. The testing was barely enough to not be called completely useless (low number of canisters around each facility, low number of testing days). We did get some answers and many more questions.
Goal 3: Influence legislation to eliminate emissions.
This effort was widely successful, considering a handful of parents were taking on a multi-billion-dollar industry. We have many more hills to climb, as far as legislation goes. And we cannot do it without the community’s support.
Did we mention that Stop EtO is now a non-profit 501(c)4 organization?
100% of contributions go towards raising awareness (to purchase merchandise, yard signs, t-shirts, banners, etc.) and to fund additional independent air testing in Lake County. We are all volunteers who want to breathe clean air, free of carcinogenic EtO.
Stop EtO is now a 501(C)(4) non-profit organization.
I'm happy to announce that we were able to purchase magnetic bumper stickers also. With yard signs almost gone, we were raising additional funds to purchse more yard signs and other items (T-shirts, bumper stickers, etc.)
We were able to collect the money we need to buy 100 yard signs! The donation that comes in from now on will be used to make bumper stickers and/or print flyers.
We are raising money to buy "Stop EtO" yard signs. This will increase the awareness that is currently lacking. We should be able to purchase about 100 yard signs.