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updated: 2/12/2020 7:38 PM

Medline testing equipment that could allow Waukegan factory to use ethylene oxide again

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  • Medline Industries in Waukegan is testing new equipment before operations using ethylene oxide are allowed to resume.

    Medline Industries in Waukegan is testing new equipment before operations using ethylene oxide are allowed to resume.
    Paul Valade | Staff Photographer, 2019

 
 

Medline Industries in Waukegan will begin testing equipment designed to meet stricter state standards to capture ethylene oxide, a potential cancer-causing gas.

The testing regime is required before sterilization processes using ethylene oxide at the facility, 1160 Northpoint Blvd., can resume. Medline halted those procedures Dec. 13 because the company had not finished installing equipment required to meet stricter emission standards.

Medline has completed the required control systems, but a testing review and the approval from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency are needed before operations can resume.

The building's negative pressure system and monitoring equipment will be tested and a "stack test" conducted to evaluate the flow of ethylene oxide in representative operating conditions, according to IEPA spokeswoman Kim Biggs.

Testing will be conducted by a third party and monitored on site by the IEPA.

The agency anticipates the multiphase testing to be complete within the next few weeks, Biggs said. Results will be reviewed as quickly as possible so the public can be informed, she added.

Medline uses ethylene oxide to sterilize medical equipment and devices used in surgical kits that 80% of Illinois hospitals depend on, according to the company.

The company must demonstrate compliance with a new state law that requires 100% or all ethylene oxide emissions be captured at the source and emissions reduced by 99.9%, or to 0.2 parts per million, according to the IEPA.

The agency also capped annual emissions from the Medline facility at 150 pounds. Medline reported ethylene oxide emissions of 3,159 pounds in 2018, according to IEPA.

If the testing shows the company doesn't comply, Medline will have to determine why and repeat the testing before commercial sterilization operations are allowed to resume.

The multistep testing process will continue over the next few weeks, said Medline spokesman Jesse Greenberg.

He said the $10 million investment in new emissions abatement equipment will make the Waukegan plant "the most advanced medical product sterilization facility in the world."

The Lake County Health Department in November 2018 learned of concerns surrounding emissions from Medline and Vantage Specialty Chemicals in Gurnee. Vantage uses ethylene oxide in production of personal care products and food additives.

In related matters, Phase II of outdoor air monitoring ended Jan. 22. Final results are expected in mid-February and will be posted by the health department at lakecountyil.gov/eto.