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EPA in Illinois

Ethylene Oxide Emissions in Lake County, Illinois

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Background

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 (EtO). 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, EPA learned that ethylene oxide emissions from another facility, Vantage Specialty Chemicals, had been erroneously reported as zero to the National Emissions Inventory.

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Coordination among agencies

EPA and the Illinois EPA (IEPA) are coordinating their efforts to respond to significant Ethylene Oxide (EtO) emissions sources in Lake County. This is the typical approach across the country, where state agencies like IEPA effectively manage environmental issues in their states.

EPA is in the process of reviewing and updating national Clean Air Act regulations for facilities that emit EtO. In Lake County, IEPA is assessing and reducing risk from individual EtO emissions sources on a timeline faster than national regulations can achieve.

Additional information is being collected to help evaluate opportunities to reduce EtO emissions and determine whether more immediate emission reduction steps are necessary. EPA provided technical assistance to the Lake County Health Department (LCHD) on the monitoring they are planning. 

LCHD issued a press release on June 10, 2019: Ethylene Oxide Air Monitoring Begins in Lake County Exit

Results from LCHD monitoring are available at: Lake County EtO Monitoring ResultsExit

The agencies are using a variety of tools, such as air dispersion modeling, to better characterize potential risks near the Lake County facilities. EPA will work closely with IEPA to keep the community informed. Air Quality Dispersion Modeling

LCHD has also formally requested Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) to do a health consultation for Lake County.  Petition for ATSDR Health Assessment (PDF) (1 pg, 97 K, About PDF) - March 26, 2019 Exit

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Health Information

What is Ethylene Oxide (EtO)?

Ethylene oxide is a flammable, colorless gas used to make a range of products, including antifreeze, textiles, plastics, detergents and adhesives. EtO also is used to sterilize equipment and plastic devices that cannot be sterilized by steam, such as medical equipment. The Clean Air Act lists EtO as a Hazardous Air Pollutant. U.S. EPA recently updated its risk value for ethylene oxide and is working with industry, and state, local and tribal air agencies to address this chemical.

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Facilities in Lake County

EPA has been working with IEPA to examine emissions information from both the Vantage and Medline facilities to determine potential next steps. 

Medline Industries (Waukegan)

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Vantage Specialties (Gurnee)

  • Vantage Specialty Chemicals Operates a chemical production facility at 3938 Porett Drive in Gurnee, Ill. It uses ethylene oxide in the production of ingredients for personal care, food and consumer products, as well as industrial uses.
  • Vantage Specialties’ ethylene oxide emissions were not included in the latest NATA due to an error in the National Emissions Inventory.
  • 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 installed an additional pollution control device at its facility and has committed to performing ambient air monitoring around its facility.
  • Vantage estimates that they emitted 1,547 pounds of ethylene oxide in 2017, including 737 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). 

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