August 12, 2019

Duckworth: Ethylene oxide-emitting facilities in Waukegan, Gurnee 'definitely’ didn’t get same response as Sterigenics in Willowbrook

Source: Lake County News-Sun


Ethylene oxide-emitting plants in Lake County were taken less seriously than the Sterigenics facility in DuPage County’s Willowbrook, U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth said Monday afternoon.

“It definitely is,” the Hoffman Estates Democrat said in an interview with the News-Sun. “I think that black and brown communities get overlooked quite often, and then there’s also a resource issue. … The municipalities couldn’t afford what Willowbrook could afford.”

That’s why Duckworth said she and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin have been pushing for ambient air testing for all manufacturing and sterilization plants that use ethylene oxide, efforts that she said are starting to yield results. She added she wants to see long-term monitoring, particularly at schools and day care centers, since higher risks exist for children.

The comments followed a roundtable meeting Monday with Duckworth and Clean Power Lake County-affiliated activists, where she said her goal was to learn what efforts they are pursuing across several environmental issues, including ethylene oxide, the coal-powered plant in Waukegan and the decommissioning of the nuclear power plant in Zion.

“The conversation needs change,” said Diana Burdette, a Clean Power Lake County volunteer whose been particularly focused on ethylene oxide. “It can’t just be a single issue. It’s environmental justice, and in this community, it’s cumulative. It is coal plus EtO (ethylene oxide) plus the land and water issues.”

That multi-issue approach was why Duckworth said she asked to meet with Clean Power Lake County.

The organizers were provided the room and time but told they could set the agenda, which is very different from how most elected officials set up these sorts of meetings, Clean Power Lake County organizer Dulce Ortiz said.

“It’s rare,” Ortiz added. “We’ve never had a U.S. senator come to listen to community members that have been working on environmental justice issues, especially in Waukegan. It’s unheard of.”

Duckworth said she began these types of meetings with grassroots organizers as a result of her experience with Flint, Michigan, where regular residents were doing their own water testing and pushing back against the official reports.

Understanding what work is happening locally is particularly important as the Trump administration actively works to roll back U.S. Environmental Protection Agency air monitoring and site tests, said Duckworth, who has been working on several pieces of legislation tied to local environmental issues.

She reintroduced a bill this past June that would compensate communities like Zion impacted by stranded nuclear waste, which she said has gotten some additional Republican support on the House side. She has another bill aimed at stopping toxic chemicals from being dumped into Lake Michigan. Duckworth is among several Illinois legislators behind another bill focused on ethylene oxide.

Duckworth said she plans to keep pushing on air monitoring, requesting perhaps another tour of the Waukegan coal plant and get more information from the EPA about how they’re monitoring the plant and what those findings have been.

Clean Power Lake County, though, is seeing the most movement at the state level where several bills — including ones addressing ethylene oxide and another aimed at coal ash — have become law, said Doug Ower, who volunteers with the Sierra Club, Clean Power Lake County and the Zion Station Community Advisory Panel.

“They’re not good enough, but two bills went through,” Ower said. “That’s something.”

The movement has been energizing, especially for young people new to organizing, said Diane Ower, who works with the Sierra Club and Clean Power Lake County.

She said a lot can change depending on who is in office, which she described as something that’s made a difference at the state level but hasn’t happened at the city level in Waukegan.

By:  Emily K. Coleman