LETTER: Historical pollution in Lake County continues to threaten human health

To the Editor:

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., but in Lake County, the leading cause of death is cancer. This makes sense considering how certain areas, mostly located in underserved communities, have a long history of environmental injustice.

For decades, John Mansville polluted the Waukegan lakefront with asbestos, and for more than 100 years, the Waukegan NRG coal plant polluted the county’s land, air and water. In the 1970s, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) found carcinogenic PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyl) in Waukegan’s harbor – the world’s largest spill – and cleanup did not finish for another 20 years.

In total, there are five superfund sites in Waukegan with hazardous pollutants that will require long-term cleanup.

Not surprisingly, only two years ago, frontline communities learned that Medline in Waukegan and Vantage in Gurnee had been releasing the carcinogen ethylene oxide (EtO) at toxic levels for years at their factories and five off-gassing warehouses throughout the county.

It is important to note that these environmental justice communities have only learned of the pollution years after it started, and they were educated about the coal plant’s impacts by the Sierra Club and about EtO pollution from a journalist.

Lake County residents need to actively demand that their legislators, the EPA and the IEPA (Illinois Environmental Protection Agency) take proactive efforts to educate communities about all local toxic pollution and prohibit and remediate toxic pollution.

Gloria Charland