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EtO Restriction Bill Passes Illinois House On A Thin Margin

via Google Maps
A sterilization plant owned by Medline Industries, at 1160 Northpoint Road in Waukegan, IL

The Illinois House approved legislation Wednesday to further restrict the use of ethylene oxide gas. Nearly no Republicans supported the move, and both sides of the aisle have concerns.

Ethylene oxide, or EtO, is a clear gas that’s been linked to cancer, and is used by industrial companies to sterilize medical equipment, among other things.

Under the proposal, companies that use it would have to severely reduce their emissions. Beyond that, all plants that deal with the carcinogenic gas would have to move to a remote area with fewer than 100 people per square mile.

That worries Todd Maisch of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.

“The notion that you can just throw up, what, a tent in a rural area, and all of a sudden start sterilizing your equipment? That’s just nonsensical,” he said.

Others say the bill amounts to an outright ban on EtO, and are concerned the legislation would lead to a shortage of sterilized medical equipment. Meanwhile, Rep. Will Davis (D, Homewood) said the gas is used in other industries — and he’s worried a wide array of plants would be forced to close.

"If the challenge with ethylene oxide is the emissions aspect of it, what will they [companies] be able to offer to address the emissions?" he asked sponsor Rep. Rita Mayfield (D, Waukegan) during a House debate Wednesday.

Mayfield rebuked some of the criticism. She explained while she's willing to compromise with opponents like Medline Industries, which runs a medical sterilization plant in the Chicago suburb of Waukegan, something will have to be done either way.

“They’ve [Medline] lobbied heavily against the bill, and say that they don’t want to do anything, and that’s not an option,” she said during debate.

Rep. Jonathan Carroll (D, Northbrook) said corporate opponents like Medline are too focused on their bottom line.

“I cannot even believe that that would even be part of this conversation," Carroll said. "People are dying. People are getting cancer. How many times are we going to see something like this happen before we step in and take action?

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin had a similar bill that would have left EtO regulation up to individual cities, but that was voted down earlier this week by a Democrat-led committee.

Sam is a Public Affairs Reporting intern for spring 2018, working out the NPR Illinois Statehouse bureau.
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