Sterigenics International, Inc., a manufacturing plant in Willowbrook that sterilizes medical equipment, pharmaceuticals, and foods and spices, has been the subject of recent scrutiny by both the public and the U.S. and Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A report compiled by a division of the Department of Health & Human Services revealed in August that the sterilization process used by Sterigenics was emitting high levels of the cancer-causing gas ethylene oxide (EtO), polluting the surrounding community and causing elevated risks of cancer for residents in neighboring areas.
According to the EPA, the cancers associated with excess EtO exposure include:
- Breast cancer
- Lymphoid cancers (lymphoma, myeloma, and leukemia)
- Cancers of the brain, lungs, connective tissue, and uterus
Recent research has shown that even low levels of ethylene oxide, well below the threshold currently maintained by the EPA can increase the risk of cancer.
On Tuesday, Sterigenics was sued by Lisa Madigan and DuPage County state’s attorney, asking that the facility either close or adhere to reduced emissions limits.
Waukegan and Gurnee: Home to Two Facilities Emitting Ethylene Oxide
It turns out putting Sterigenics under a microscope is creating problems for factories outside of DuPage County as well. In a story posted on November 2nd, the Chicago Tribune revealed that their own research into EPA data revealed a facility in Lake County that is emitting levels of EtO that are on par with those emitted by Sterigenics. The data was derived from an EPA map that denotes areas with an abnormally high level of cancer risk due to chemical emissions. The plant? Medline in Waukegan.
However, a data dig by the Tribune revealed another facility that wasn’t on the EPA’s map that is actually a worse offender than even Sterigenics. Located in Gurnee, the facility is Vantage Specialty Products, a manufacturer of substances used in hair, skin, sun care and cosmetics. This same company prides itself on providing an entire line of substances that are “green and natural.”
During at least one period, Vantage Specialty Products was found to have released more ethylene oxide than Sterigenics. According to the Tribune’s research, the amount of EtO released by these facilities in 2014 were as follows:
- Medline = 3,058 lbs
- Sterigenics = 5,566 lbs
- Vantage Specialty Products = 6,412 lbs
When examining the ethylene oxide levels emitted from both Vantage and Medline, the emissions potentially impact more than twice the amount of local residents as the Sterigenics facility.
No Previous Mention of Lake County Polluters to the Public
The first question is why the U.S. or Illinois EPA have remained silent about the elevated risk of cancer coming from Medline and Vantage Specialty Products. Digging into this issue leads to another major question. It turns out the EPA didn’t have Vantage’s emissions data when conducting its National Air Toxics Assessment and therefore Vantage was totally omitted from the EPA’s “cancer-risk” map. Why are facilities able to voluntarily submit this data to the EPA? Shouldn’t it be required reporting, with a punishment for failure to do so?
Armed with their findings, the Tribune contacted the U.S. EPA, the Illinois EPA, state elected officials, and Vantage to start demanding action and answers. Both the Illinois EPA and the U.S. EPA refused to commit to testing ethylene oxide levels in areas near Vantage or Medline.
Last month, Illinois Democratic Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth and Illinois Democratic Rep. Brad Schneider wrote the EPA to ask them to conduct additional testing at Vantage and surrounding areas. As for Vantage, the Tribune says that within an hour of contacting the company, they had hired a crisis relations expert who then emailed the Tribune to say that Vantage had already lowered its emissions and had voluntarily sent this data to the EPA. The crisis manager also says that they will test emissions levels on its own property and are committed to lowering emissions going forward.
The company has also posted a note to Gurnee residents on its website, saying, in part, that revised acceptable EtO emissions levels has them reevaluating the safety of residents in surrounding areas. Mimicking the statements sent by their crisis manager, they say they plan to reduce emissions, test EtO levels on their property, and to cooperate with any efforts or requests by the EPA.
Have You or Someone You Love Been Exposed to Vantage’s Toxic Emissions?
If you have a health injury or are the survivor of someone who may have died from the use or exposure to a dangerous chemical or air pollutant like EtO, it’s important that you know your rights under the law. Contact us online or call us at 877-374-1417 or 312-332-2872 to set up a FREE consultation with a Chicago injury lawyer to discuss your legal options. Responsible parties should be held accountable.