Foxconn and chemical emissions among the top stories of 2018

The News-Sun cited local environmental concerns as one of the major stories of 2018. Sandy has toured the Foxconn site in Wisconsin as well as Vantage Specialty Chemicals in Gurnee. Read more from the News-Sun:

Foxconn, chemical plants on Lake County's environmental radar

By Emily K. Coleman, News-Sun
December 27, 2018

The unknown impacts of industry both from existing facilities and one in the works have kept environmental issues front and center in Lake County this year.

The Lake County Board and numerous communities along the Des Plaines River voiced their concerns this summer about the potential environmental impacts of the Foxconn manufacturing plant in Kenosha County and called on the state of Wisconsin to reconsider the waiving of environmental regulations.

The county continues to be “very proactive,” said Sandy Hart, the County Board’s new chairwoman. She visited the Foxconn site, which sits in the headwaters of the Des Plaines River Watershed, with the Lake County Stormwater Management Commission’s executive director earlier this month.

The Lake County Stormwater Management Commission has approved a $74,000 engineering study to review potential flooding impacts, a big concern in Lake County, where flooding in July 2017 led to a disaster declaration by the governor.

The proposed Foxconn campus is about 1/30th the size of the Amazon facility also located off Interstate 94, Hart said. That doesn’t include potential residential and commercial development that may follow the opening of the campus.

“The size of that, it’s almost incomprehensible,” Hart said.

Just a few months after Lake County communities voiced their outrage about the potential environmental impacts from the north, a Chicago Tribune investigation found another environmental threat already in existence.

Medline Industries’ Waukegan facility and Vantage Specialty Chemicals in Gurnee release ethylene oxide, a carcinogenic gas used to sterilize equipment and to make other chemicals, according to state and federal environmental agencies.

The Gurnee facility will be installing a scrubber to reduce some emissions, but the new equipment won’t help address “fugitive gases” which can escape from anywhere there’s a joint in the piping, said Hart, who said she’s also done a tour of that facility.

The county is also in the process of gathering information from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to better understand the situation, Hart added.

The village of Gurnee and the city of Waukegan have also been monitoring the situation, officials have said.

The response from Gurnee residents has been more vocal than Waukegan’s, said the Rev. Eileen Shanley-Roberts, a co-chair of the nonprofit Lake County Clean Power. She said she hopes both towns continue to exert pressure on the companies to make changes and be public about those efforts.

Waukegan Mayor Sam Cunningham said he’s waiting for the most recent testing results before asking the council what next steps the city should take — like hiring an outside firm to analyze the results and monitor emissions and company actions moving forward.

Cunningham added that he thinks things are moving in the right direction and that the state and federal environmental agencies will be more forthcoming with information in the future.

The county, like some representatives in Congress, have been pushing for air monitoring and investigation into why the emissions data wasn’t reported the way it should have been, Hart said. Vantage Specialty Chemicals in Gurnee wasn’t originally included on an interactive map showing communities where cancer risks are higher.