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updated: 3/6/2019 7:14 AM

Gurnee, Waukegan explore independent air monitoring around two factories

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  • Vantage Specialty Chemicals on Porett Drive in Gurnee is one of two Lake County manufacturing facilities local leaders and residents want tested for emissions of the harmful gas ethylene oxide.

    Vantage Specialty Chemicals on Porett Drive in Gurnee is one of two Lake County manufacturing facilities local leaders and residents want tested for emissions of the harmful gas ethylene oxide.
    Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

  • Medline Industries on Northpoint Boulevard in Waukegan is one of two Lake County manufacturing facilities local leaders and residents want tested for emissions of the harmful gas ethylene oxide.

    Medline Industries on Northpoint Boulevard in Waukegan is one of two Lake County manufacturing facilities local leaders and residents want tested for emissions of the harmful gas ethylene oxide.
    Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

 
 
Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct that Sarah Crawford is a Gurnee resident and member of the group StopEtO in Lake County.

Local officials concerned with potentially harmful emissions from manufacturing facilities in Gurnee and Waukegan could hire an independent firm to monitor the air nearby.

The Lake County Health Department, state legislators, and officials from Gurnee and Waukegan continue to push state and federal environmental officials to conduct testing. But with no guarantee that will happen, municipal and county leaders are considering options to take matters into their own hands.

"We know this isn't over, but it's a huge step forward," said Sarah Crawford, a Gurnee resident and member of the group StopEtO in Lake County.

Local leaders and residents want the air near Medline Industries in Waukegan and Vantage Specialty Chemicals in Gurnee tested for emissions of ethylene oxide, which has been classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a human carcinogen.

Waukegan Mayor Sam Cunningham on Monday said the communities "have verbally agreed to split funding for testing" and the county health department will take the lead in seeking an independent firm.

The health department's work would include determining how bids would be solicited and approved, how costs would be divided and who would analyze the results, said Hannah Goering, health department spokeswoman.

Gurnee Mayor Kristi Kovarik said both communities are working with the health department, but not necessarily in tandem.

"We share information, we talk, (but) it doesn't mean we're doing something together," she said. "We're all stakeholders in this and want to do the right thing."

Cunningham said he hopes to see testing begin in May. Officials in both Waukegan and Gurnee stressed that any decisions on agreements or spending would be made at public meetings.

Health department Executive Director Mark Pfister, Kovarik and Cunningham met last week with John Kim, director of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, and state Sen. Melinda Bush, chairwoman of the state Senate's Environmental Committee.

"Ambient air monitoring is the logical next step in this developing situation," Pfister said. "This testing would help us determine what levels of ethylene oxide may be occurring in our communities."

The U.S. EPA has said it will rely primarily on air dispersion modeling that combines emission and meteorological data to predict ethylene oxide concentrations near facilities.

"Once completed, modeling will help U.S. EPA and IEPA evaluate whether Medline and Vantage must take additional actions to protect public health," according to a statement Tuesday.

Local parties will continue to urge state and federal officials to conduct air monitoring but in the meantime are "exploring independent air monitoring as an option to assure the protection of our residents' health," Pfister said.

IEPA spokeswoman Kim Biggs said the agency is committed to working closely with local officials, community members and businesses.

Both companies say they operate within state and federal standards for ethylene oxide emissions and are working to increase the efficiency of their emission controls. That work is either pending or underway at the facilities, according to IEPA.