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Testing Shows Increased Levels Of Potential Cancer-Causing Gas In Blood Of Residents Near Medline Plant

WAUKEGAN (CBS) – Research from the University of Illinois-Chicago found higher levels of a potentially cancer-causing gas in the blood of some residents living near a plant in Waukegan.

Now the Lake County Health Department is releasing their most-recent findings about that chemical: ethylene oxide.

The Medline plant is just across the pond from Annette Darden's backyard. The facility sterilizes medical instruments using ethylene oxide, a colorless gas that can cause cancer in humans, according to the EPA.

"My kids, they have their friends; they have everything," Darden said. "Our church is here. My job's here."

Darden's family participated in a pilot survey conducted by researchers from the UIC School of Public Health.

Although it used a very limited sampling, the study found that the average level of ETO in the blood of people living closer to the plant was significantly higher than the average in the group that lived farther away.

One of those residents with higher levels: Darden's 11-year-old son, Kobe.

"You think that your child's gonna get cancer," Darden said of the test results.

CBS 2 Investigators reached out to the Lake County Health Department for an interview but a spokesperson passed on the opportunity, saying they don't have the expertise to draw any conclusions on the survey results.

At the same time, the county released its latest air monitoring results as of Dec. 12.

Medline, the largest private employer in Waukegan, is touting those findings as a win. The company notes that the average level of ETO in the air at sampling sites near the Waukegan facility was lower than established average levels.

"The recent ambient air background tests further underscore the fact that we continue to operate safely," Medline public affairs director Jesse Greenberg said.

UIC experts and Medline agree more research of both blood and air levels is necessary.

"The next step should be a larger study with randomized participants and correlated with the air levels," said Dr. Susan Buchanan, Director of the Great Lakes Center for Children's Environmental Health.

Although, residents like Darden note that the site with the highest reading from the last county test is also the site closest to her home--about a mile away.

Residents are asking for the plant to be shut down.

They have made this plea in the past, but this the have the results from their blood tests to bolster their case.

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