Overview of Ethylene Oxide Emissions
& Lake County
What is Ethylene Oxide?
Ethylene Oxide (EtO) is a compound used for a variety of industrial purposes, from sterilizing medical equipment to producing antifreeze. After long classifying EtO as “possibly” carcinogenic, and after decades of research underscoring the danger EtO poses to human health, in December 2016, the EPA reassessed the public health “risk value” for EtO and determined it to be a “known carcinogen.” As a result, EPA included EtO in its National Air Toxics Assessment (NATA), which examines the public health impact of emissions levels across the country.
What EPA found in Lake County
Based on the new public health risk value for EtO, EPA included the compound when it put together the most recent NATA. EPA identified several regions across the country that have possibly elevated levels of EtO—including areas near two facilities in Waukegan and Gurnee. However, these levels are based on self-reported stacks emissions and not based on known ambient levels – and further data would be required to assess ambient levels in our community. Unlike in Willowbrook, the EPA refused to fund and coordinate ambient air monitoring in Lake County.
Lake County’s Ambient Air Monitoring
In absence of EPA leadership, Lake County stepped up to the plate – led by the Lake County Public Health Department (LCPHD) – to conduct its own ambient air monitoring. Conducted in June, this monitoring regime showed concerning levels of EtO in our community, demanding further action. In mid-September, LCPHD announced it would be conducting a second round of air testing in the air, in coordination with the Illinois EPA. The two EtO-using facilities have installed or are in the process of installing additional emissions control technology to bring their emissions levels in-line with recently-passed Illinois law.
Where can I learn more about ethylene oxide?
The EPA created a website with more information about EtO, its health effects, what EPA is doing to, and regular updates. You can find more information here: https://www.epa.gov/ethylene-oxide
Lake County has created a similar webpage: https://www.lakecountyil.gov/4158/Ethylene-Oxide-in-Lake-County
- Relay your thoughts and concerns to Rep. Schneider by calling our Lincolnshire office at 847-383-4870 or submitting a comment online at http://schneider.house.gov/contact.
- Relay your comments to EPA Region 5 here: https://www.epa.gov/aboutepa/forms/contact-epa-region-5
- Visit EPA’s regularly updated webpage on EtO in Lake County: https://www.epa.gov/il/addressing-ethylene-oxide-emissions-lake-county-illinois
Congressman Schneider’s Work to Address
Ethylene Oxide Emissions in Lake County
Legislation requiring U.S. EPA to strictly regulate EtO:
In 2018 and again in 2019, Congressman Schneider introduced legislation – with Sen. Durbin and cosponsored by all federal officials representing Lake County – that would require the EPA to issue strict regulations on the use of EtO based on the 2016 carcinogenicity determination. This legislation would also require the public be notified for any EtO-related violations and would require an investigation by the EPA Inspector General should the Administrator fail to notify the public of EtO-related violations within 30 days. Congressman Schneider is now working to get this legislation (H.R 1152) enacted into law.
Legislation requiring process for U.S. EPA when it determines chemicals to be dangerous
Congressman Schneider helped introduce legislation – along with Reps. Foster, Casten, and Lipinski – that would put into place a process for how the EPA should act when it determines a chemical or compound to be more dangerous than previously determined—in order to correct the EPA’s inaction and missteps with EtO. This process would include notifying the affected communities and engaging the public on what this new information means, issuing federal regulations with respect to the new health determination, and working with federal public health stakeholders like the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
Appropriations – Monitoring Amendment
In the spring of 2019, Congressman Schneider successfully advocated for the Appropriations Committee to increase funding for EPA’s compliance account to conduct EtO air monitoring. The $5.6 million increase for EPA’s compliance monitoring program would specifically support EPA air monitoring for communities identified by the National Air Toxics Assessment (NATA) as facing high levels of EtO emissions, like Lake County. Congressman Schneider has since led efforts to include this funding as the House and Senate conference their respective appropriations bills to make this funding a reality.
Appropriations – Public Engagement Amendment
This summer, the House included Congressman Schneider’s amendment to the EPA appropriations legislation to conduct public outreach and community engagement specifically about EtO. The EPA has failed its duty to engage with Lake County on the public health threat of EtO, and this funding would ensure the Agency lives up to its obligation. Now Congressman Schneider is working to make sure this amendment is included in the final funding legislation for the EPA.
Continued Outreach to U.S. EPA
Congressman Schneider has urged U.S. EPA Administrator Wheeler – multiple times, in person and in writing – to fulfill EPA’s duty assisting our community with EtO emissions. This must include EPA helping to fund and coordinate ambient air monitoring, analyzing air data, and conducting public engagement on the issue. Congressman Schneider will continue to hold Administrator Wheeler, EPA Region 5 and all relevant federal agencies on fulfilling their proper duty in regulating EtO and properly keeping the public informed. Congressman Schneider with his colleagues also requested a public health risk assessment, like that conducted for Willowbrook, by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a sub-agency of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.