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EPA in Illinois

Ethylene Oxide Emissions in Lake County, Illinois

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How EPA is Involved

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.

EPA has existing National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAPs) for industries that emit ethylene oxide, and we have begun to review and update those.  In particular:

Chemical industry: EPA is currently conducting a Risk and Technology Review (RTR) for the Miscellaneous Organic NESHAP (also known as the MON). The agency has a court-ordered deadline that requires the MON RTR be finalized by March 13, 2020.  Status of this rulemaking.

Commercial Sterilizers: EPA is also conducting an RTR for the Ethylene Oxide Emissions Standards for Sterilization Facilities NESHAP. This standard applies to commercial sterilization facilities, but not to small sterilizers used by hospitals.  Status of this rulemaking.

  EPA  Sept. 13, 2019 Ethylene Oxide update  

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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. 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)

  • Medline Industries operates a commercial sterilization facility at 1160 Northpoint Road in Waukegan, Ill. It uses ethylene oxide to sterilize medical equipment at the facility.
  • Medline has received a construction permit (see fact sheet) from Illinois EPA requiring installation of controls and emissions monitors and limiting total facility EtO emissions to 150 pounds annually.

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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.
  • Vantage reported 1,062 pounds of 2018 EtO emissions to the Toxics Release Inventory, 622 pounds from point sources (emissions stacks) and 440 pounds from “fugitive” sources, such as leaking valves and other equipment. For 2017, they reported 1,547 pounds of ethylene oxide in 2017, 737 pounds from controlled emissions stacks and 811 pounds from fugitive sources (does not add due to rounding).
  • Illinois EPA has drafted a construction permit (see fact sheet) for Vantage requiring enhanced leak detection and repair and limiting total facility EtO emissions to 110 pounds annually, of which no more than 60 pounds can be from fugitive sources. Illinois EPA is accepting written comments on the permit, via, through November 29, 2019.

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