Illinois House approves bill for Senate to phase out cancer-causing ethylene oxide

Emma Edmund, Assistant City Editor

The Illinois House on Wednesday approved a bill for the Senate that would require the phaseout of cancer-causing ethylene oxide.

The gas, which is primarily used to make other chemicals or as a pesticide or sterilizing agent, has been linked to leukemia, lymphoma, stomach and breast cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. The bill, which passed in the house 60-47, would urge non-critical hospitals to stop using ethylene oxide by 2023, and Gov. J.B. Pritzker has promised to sign the bill should it pass both state chambers, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The Tribune also reports the bill would require Medline Industries, a manufacturer and distributor of medical supplies, to move its assembly plant away from densely populated Lake County neighborhoods or switch to a safer alternative for ethylene oxide.

Medline has already agreed to install pollution control equipment to reduce the amount of ethylene oxide that escapes into surrounding neighborhoods, which include, next to the company’s plant off Skokie Highway, four predominantly black and Latinx census tracts, according to the Chicago Tribune. The Tribune also reported that Medline was the third-largest ethylene-oxide-emitting source in the state in 2014.

Community groups have argued that any additional ethylene oxide emissions will increase cancer risk, but Medline argues it needs to use the gas because it is a government-approved method for sterilizing medical equipment, especially for surgical kits with pieces that would be damaged by other sterilization methods.

According to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, there are 27 locations in Illinois that use ethylene oxide, including Evanston Hospital.

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