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EPA in Illinois

Addressing Ethylene Oxide Emissions in Lake County, Illinois

U.S. EPA’s latest National Air Toxics Assessment (NATA), identified four census tracts in Lake County as having potential cancer risks of 100 in 1 million or greater from exposure to a group of air pollutants known as “air toxics.” The majority of that risk was estimated to be from the pollutant ethylene oxide. Because NATA does not identify risks from specific facilities, EPA began investigating further.

The NATA risk estimates were modeled using emissions information from the 2014 National Emissions Inventory, which included ethylene oxide emissions from Medline Industries in Waukegan. After NATA was released, U.S. EPA learned that ethylene oxide emissions from another facility, Vantage Specialty Chemicals, had been erroneously reported as zero to the National Emissions Inventory.

U.S. EPA has been working with Illinois EPA to examine emissions information from both the Vantage and Medline facilities to determine potential next steps. Here is what we know as of February 20, 2019:

Medline Industries

  • Medline Industries operates a commercial sterilization facility at 1160 Northpoint Road in Waukegan, IL. It uses ethylene oxide to sterilize medical equipment at the facility.
  • Medline Industries has reported that it is working with contractors to voluntarily install additional control technology to reduce ethylene oxide emissions from the back vents and other currently uncontrolled emissions at the facility, and to upgrade existing controls. Installation is expected in Spring 2019.

Vantage Specialties

  • Vantage Specialties’ ethylene oxide emissions were not included in the latest NATA due to the error in the National Emissions Inventory.
  • Vantage Specialty Chemicals Operates a chemical production facility at 3938 Porett Drive in Gurnee, IL. It uses ethylene oxide in the production of ingredients for personal care, food and consumer products, as well as industrial uses.
  • U.S. EPA has been reviewing updated emissions information from the company. This information includes revised emissions estimates reported to the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) and the methodology for calculating those, along with information from a 2017 stack test the company conducted with Illinois EPA approval.
  • Vantage has reported that it is working with contractors to voluntarily add a secondary control to its existing scrubber. Estimated installation of the additional control equipment is Spring 2019.  Vantage has indicated that it will conduct monitoring at the facility’s fenceline after the additional control equipment is installed.
  • Vantage estimates that they emitted 1,547 pounds of ethylene oxide in 2017, including 701 pounds from controlled emissions stacks and 811 pounds from “fugitive” sources, such as leaking valves and other equipment. Vantage considers this estimate to be more accurate than what they previously reported to the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). 

Ethylene Oxide Emissions: Frequent Questions