MILLIE CORDER DIDN’T know why there was so much cancer in her family. Her daughter, Cheryl, was only 27 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and 34 when the disease killed her in 2002. By that time, Millie’s husband, Chuck, had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. He recovered, only to develop skin cancer in 2005. The next year, Millie herself was diagnosed with colon cancer and, two years after that, with breast cancer. Those years were a blur as she shuttled back and forth between her office, her home, and doctors’ appointments. While she was recovering, Chuck died of his cancer. Two years later, her stepson, Brian, was diagnosed with and died from lung cancer.

Millie Corder still can’t say for sure why her family was devastated by cancer. But since burying her daughter, stepson, and husband, she’s learned that the neighborhood where they lived and worked in Lake County, Illinois, has been inundated with dangerous amounts of a colorless, carcinogenic gas called ethylene oxide. Others in Gurnee, as well as nearby Waukegan, have been experiencing similar realizations over the past two years, since they began gathering in the basement of a local church to see what they could do to stop the pollution.

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