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, in December 2016, EPA reassessed the public health “risk value” for EtO and determined that long-term exposure could cause elevated risks for certain types of cancer. 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. As a result, EPA identified several regions across the country that have possibly elevated levels of EtO—including areas near two facilities in Waukegan and Gurnee.
In June 2019, Lake County, Waukegan and Gurnee undertook a joint ambient air monitoring program to measure EtO in the community. The results of this testing is updated on the Lake County Public Health Department website.
Following the release of the ambient air monitoring data in Lake County, Congressman Schneider called for a suspension of operations at the Medline facility in Lake County until unsafe levels of EtO emissions are verifiably eliminated.
In June 2019, an amendment authored by Schneider to fund public outreach activities by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in communities affected by ethylene oxide (EtO) emissions passed the U.S. House of Representatives and was included in H.R. 3055. A vote on passage of this larger appropriations package is expected in the coming days. More information is available on Schneider’s website
Previously in May 2019, Schneider secured funding for ambient air monitoring of Ethylene Oxide (EtO) in the appropriations bill for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The $5.6 million increase for EPA’s compliance monitoring program would support EPA air monitoring for communities identified by the National Air Toxics Assessment (NATA) as facing high levels of EtO emissions, including those in Lake County. More information is available on Schneider’s website.
In addition, with Sens. Durbin and Duckworth, Rep. Schneider contacted the EPA to express concern about the EtO emissions in the county and urged the EPA to conduct air monitoring of the two facilities, work with them to limit their EtO emissions, make all test data public, and hold a public meeting to address concerns from the community. Rep. Schneider also urged EPA’s Air and Radiation Division to evaluate the public health risk for the area based on the EtO emissions. Rep. Schneider met with Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler to express his concern and urge EPA to work with the local community to address the issue. With Sen. Durbin, Rep. Schneider introduced legislation that would force EPA to enact stricter regulations for EtO. Rep. Schneider will continue to engage with local officials and federal agencies on how we can best address this issue in our community.
Should I be concerned about me and my family’s possible exposure to ethylene oxide?
At this point, we need more information to determine the public health impact of these emissions. Right now, EPA is collecting emissions data from these facilities. Rep. Schneider has urged the EPA to be fully transparent about what they find and to keep the community informed. As we learn more, Rep. Schneider will work with community leaders and federal officials to address the issue.
Where can I learn more about ethylene oxide?
The EPA created a website with more information about EtO, its health effects, what the agency is doing to address the issue, and regular updates. You can find more information here: https://www.epa.gov/ethylene-oxide
In addition, information on ambient air monitoring in Lake County is available at: https://www.lakecountyil.gov/4188/EtO-Monitoring-Results
- Relay your concerns to Rep. Schneider by calling our Lincolnshire office at 847-383-4870
- Learn more about what EPA’s Region 5 office is doing on the issue by calling their Chicago office at 312-353-2000 or visiting www.epa.gov/aboutepa/epa-region-5
- Visit EPA’s website on Lake County: https://www.epa.gov/il/addressing-ethylene-oxide-emissions-lake-county-illinois