What can be done? Ban Production of Cancerous Gas (EtO) in Lake County

Niharika Sapra, Staff Writer

What is Happening?

Ethylene Oxide gas is being released in our community in large amounts by two companies in Gurnee and Waukegan. In 2014, these companies released over 9,470 pounds of this gas.

Who is Releasing It?

Vantage Specialty Chemicals in Gurnee, IL and Medline Industries in Waukegan, IL. Medline uses it to sterilize medical supplies. Vantage uses it for non-medical products.

What is Ethylene Oxide?

A gas used to sterilize materials that are sensitive to normal sterilization techniques (heat and moisture). It is also used to make some consumer products.

Why is Ethylene Oxide Bad?

It sterilizes by attacking and damaging the DNA of organisms, including humans. This makes it an aggressive cause of cancer – even in very small quantities. EtO causes many health problems, including asthma, headaches, miscarriage, decreased fertility, birth defects, eye problems, and brain cell death (neurotoxicity). These toxic effects are even stronger in children. There is NO SAFE AMOUNT of exposure to this chemical.

What Can I Do?


Ethylene oxide is used as a chemical intermediate in manufacturing ethylene glycol. It is also used as a sterilizing agent for medical equipment and a fumigating agent for spices. The acute (short-term) effects of ethylene oxide in humans include central nervous system depression and irritation of the eyes and mucous membranes. Chronic (long-term) exposure to ethylene oxide in humans can cause irritation of the eyes, skin, nose, throat, and lungs, and brain/nervous system damage. Research also links ethylene oxide exposure to negative reproductive effects. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has concluded that ethylene oxide is carcinogenic (cancerous) to humans by the inhalation route of exposure and increases the risk of lymphoid cancer and breast cancer, for females.

Sources and Potential Exposure

  • Uncontrolled emissions or venting with other gases in industrial settings. 
  • It’s use as a sterilizer of medical equipment and its release from commodity-fumigated materials.
  • Breathing contaminated air or from smoking tobacco or being near someone who is smoking. 
  • Certain occupational groups (e.g., workers in ethylene oxide manufacturing or processing plants, sterilization technicians, and workers involved in fumigation) may be exposed in the workplace. 


  • Tests are available to determine personal exposure to ethylene oxide, such as the determination of ethylene oxide in the blood or the amount breathed out of the lungs.

Health Hazard Information

  • Acute Effects:
    • nausea, vomiting, neurological disorders, bronchitis, pulmonary edema, and emphysema.
    • Dermal or ocular contact has caused irritation of the skin and eyes in humans. (
    • Tests involving acute exposure of animals have shown ethylene oxide to have high acute toxicity from inhalation exposures. 
  • Chronic Effects (Noncancerous):
    • Workers experience irritation of the eyes, skin, and respiratory passages and effects to the nervous system (headache, nausea, memory loss, numbness) after prolonged exposure. 
  • Reproductive/Developmental Effects:
    • Some evidence states that inhalation exposure increased rate of miscarriages in female workers. 
    • Various reproductive effects have been noted in inhalation exposure studies of animals, including decreased number of implantation sites, decreased testicular weights and sperm concentration, and testicular degeneration. 
  • Cancer Risk:
    • Studies have shown elevated cases of lymphoid cancer and breast cancer in female workers. 
    • It can cause tumors of the brain, lung, connective tissue, uterus, and mammary gland, as shown in animals exposed to ethylene oxide by inhalation.
    • The EPA has concluded that ethylene oxide is carcinogenic to humans by the inhalation route of exposure.