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CDC study shows high levels of carcinogenic gas near north suburban Chicago facilities

Report on manufacturing plants in north Chicago suburbs highlights cancer risk
Report on manufacturing plants in north Chicago suburbs highlights cancer risk 00:43

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released an air study near Vantage Specialty Chemicals manufacturing facility in Gurnee and the Medline Industries medical sterilization facility in Waukegan.

The study found high levels of ethylene oxide (C₂H₄O), a gas that can cause cancer.

For years, the CBS 2 Investigators documented cases of cancer in the areas around the manufacturing plants.

In 2019, Lake County, along with the Waukegan and Gurnee city governments, set up testing sites to find how much ethylene oxide was in the air.

"We picked up ethylene oxide in every sample that we tested," Lake County's Larry Mackey said in 2019.

The new study analyzed ethylene oxide concentrations near the Medline from June 2019 to September 2023, and the Vantage plant from June 2019 to May 2020.

The CDC in its new study said as many as 51 people who lived within 0.6 mile of Medline could have been harmed by long exposure to the gas.

In the past few years, the companies have installed emission controls, which the CDC says appears to bring the risk down.

U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Illinois), founder and chair of the Congressional Ethylene Oxide Task Force, issued a statement on the report Friday along with U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), and Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Illinois):

"Today's report shows that stringent emissions controls and ambient air monitoring appear to be effective in helping ensure the air is safe to breathe for residents living near facilities that use ethylene oxide (EtO)," the lawmakers said. "We are pleased that recent measurements of EtO near Medline are consistent with measurements at locations in Lake County, and around the country, that are not close to any facilities using EtO. Nevertheless, it remains imperative that EtO levels continue to be monitored going forward so area residents can be confident their communities are safe. We also urge Vantage to resume air monitoring outside its Gurnee plant to give confidence that their control systems are working. Additionally, we urge the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to follow ATSDR's advice and continue to improve analytical methods with lower detection limits to observe EtO levels.  As Congressional representatives of these communities, we stand ready to help those impacted."

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