Medline's use of ethylene oxide at Waukegan plant on hold but could resume soon

  • Medline Industries on Northpoint Boulevard in Waukegan is operating but has not resumed procedures using ethylene oxide while it tests safety equipment.

      Medline Industries on Northpoint Boulevard in Waukegan is operating but has not resumed procedures using ethylene oxide while it tests safety equipment. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer, 2019

 
 
Updated 1/21/2020 3:47 PM

Medline Industries in Waukegan, which voluntary halted procedures using ethylene oxide to sterilize medical equipment and devices in mid-December, is preparing to resume those processes.

The company is in the final stages of testing and balancing new emissions equipment and expects to resume "very soon," according to spokesperson Jesse Greenberg.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

On its "Ethylene Oxide in Lake County" page on its website, the Lake County Health Department on Tuesday posted that Medline has not been operating since Dec. 13. According to the health department, the company will be testing its new controls and anticipates resuming operations the week of Jan. 27.

Medline has been working to abate emissions of ethylene oxide, which has been classified by the U.S. EPA as a human carcinogen. In an undated statement, the company said it has been "working around the clock" since October to complete nearly $10 million in upgrades to the plant at 1160 Northpoint Blvd.

In November 2018, the health department learned of concerns surrounding ethylene oxide emissions from Medline and Vantage Specialty Chemicals in Gurnee.

Vantage Specialty Chemicals' continuous monitoring system was installed in April and is operational, according to the health department. Vantage uses ethylene oxide to produce household items, such as soap and shampoo.

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Medline says its installation of "world class" emissions abatement equipment is complete. Sterilization operations were temporarily paused, according to the company, as it completes the final stages of balancing and testing the equipment.

The company says it has installed the best available technology and will meet or exceed the requirements of the Matt Haller Act and its new Illinois Environmental Protection Agency permit when it resumes operations.

Haller was a Willowbrook resident and outspoken opponent of Sterigenics, which used ethylene oxide to sterilize equipment. That facility closed in September, after more than 30 years of operation, and is being sued by more than 70 parties who claim their health was affected. Haller died last year of stomach cancer.

State legislation has required both Lake County facilities to make improvements to their pollution controls. According to the new state law, 100% of all ethylene oxide emissions must be captured at the source and emissions reduced by 99.9% or to 0.2 parts per million.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Even before this latest, state-of-the-art emissions capturing equipment is fully installed, operations at our Waukegan facility were conducted at proven safe levels," Medline's Greenberg said in the statement.

"Once our upgrades are complete, our facility will operate the most advanced safety equipment in the world," Greenberg said.

The 500 employees at the Waukegan facility have continued to work and get paid, Greenberg said Tuesday.

Air monitoring around the two plants began last June for an initial 30-day period. The IEPA provided funding for additional monitoring, which resumed in late October and will continue through January.

Visit lakecountyil.gov/eto for updates on ethylene oxide testing and associated information.

Anyone with questions about ethylene oxide in Lake County can call the U.S. EPA Region 5 hotline at (312) 353-2000 or (800) 621-8431 (toll free) or email r5hotline@epa.gov.

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