Chicago Sterigenics Lawsuit Attorney
Cancer Caused by Exposure to Ethylene Oxide? Call (312) 313-0202
Sterigenics, a Sotera Health company which operates a sterilization plant in Willowbrook, Illinois, has for over 30 years exposed local residents and workers to harmful levels of ethylene oxide. Now, it is facing a growing number of lawsuits from victims who claim emissions produced by the industrial plant caused cancer and death.
Lawsuits against Sterigenics, which was shut down by the state of Illinois in February, seek financial compensation for illnesses victims claim resulted from exposure to ethylene oxide (EtO), a gas which has been labeled a human carcinogen, as well as for wrongful death caused by toxic exposure to EtO.
Power Rogers & Smith is currently representing a number of plaintiffs in the litigation, which is comprised mostly of residents living near the Willowbrook Sterigenics plant, or family members of locals or workers diagnosed with cancer, including those who lost loved ones to fatal cancers.
If you have questions about your rights and options, we’re here to help. Call (312) 313-0202 or contact us online for a free and confidential consultation.
PRS Leading the Fight
PRS is leading the fight against Sterigenics, and is actively reviewing potential cases from victims and families who believe their cancers, illnesses, or family member’s death were caused by exposure to ethylene oxide emitted by the Willowbrook plant. Our firm filed a class action against Sterigenics and GTCR in 2018, and is ready to lead the fight in helping other victims pursue justice and compensation for their losses. Read the first page of the Sterigenics Class Action Complaint.
Given what’s known thus far, it is likely many more lawsuits will be filed:
- Willowbrook and the surrounding areas near the plant are heavily inhabited residential areas, and community residents, as well as workers in or near the plant, face cancer risks nearly 3x the acceptable risk limit.
- Sterigenic’s EO emissions have made the area surrounding its Willowbrook plant one of the top 20 cancer tracts in the U.S.;
- Risks associated with EO have been known for years, but Sterigenics failed to address them in a timely and appropriate manner.
- On August 15, a Federal Judge ruledCook County Courts can hear lawsuits against Sterigenics.
Ethylene Oxide Exposure & Health Risks
Ethylene Oxide (EtO or EO) is a colorless, sweet-smelling gas used in the production of other chemicals, as a pesticide, and as a sterilizing agent and disinfectant. It’s also used widely in the manufacturing of other chemicals, and in a process known as ethoxylation, which adds EtO to other chemicals to decrease irritation (i.e. in cosmetic, personal care, and household cleaning products).
People can be exposed to ethylene oxide through inhalation and ingestion, often in consumer products, work settings, and the environment. The highest concentrations of EtO are found in and around industrial plants which use or make it, as well as hospitals, where it’s used to sterilize equipment.
While EtO’s ability to destroy DNA make it effective for sterilization, it is also extremely harmful to humans:
- At low exposure levels, ethylene oxide can cause acute poisoning accompanied by various central nervous symptoms, including headache, nausea, and vomiting. In occupational settings, workers have also reported memory loss, impaired coordination, and peripheral neuropathy.
- At high / chronic exposure levels, ethylene oxide is mutagenic, meaning it causes changes to genetic material like DNA, and increases the frequency of natural mutations – many of which cause cancer. Like other mutagens, ethylene oxide is carcinogenic.
Ethylene Oxide Cancer Risks
Cancer risks associated with ethylene oxide date back decades, and are widely supported by scientific studies, medical literature, and health organizations and public agencies across the world:
- The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies ethylene oxide as a proven carcinogen (Group 1);
- The state of California has classified ethylene oxide as a human carcinogen since 1987.
- In December 2016, the EPA classified ethylene oxide as a human carcinogen. Agency studies found increased risks of white blood cell cancers (lymphohematopoietic cancers) among workers exposed to EO, as well as increased risks of breast cancer in females.
What’s known about EtO has changed over time, with the EPA increasing its health value for ethylene oxide when it decaled it a known cancer-causing chemical. It is now considered 30x more toxic to adults, and 60x more toxic to children, than previously believed.
Ethylene oxide has been linked to specific cancers which affect the white blood cells (the cells which help the body’s immune system fight illnesses), including:
- Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
- Lymphocytic leukemia
- Breast cancer
- Bladder cancer / stomach cancer
EtO has also been associated with other serious health effects, including:
- Increased miscarriage rates / infertility
- Birth defects
- Breathing difficulties
- Eye, nose, and throat irritation
- Neurological ailments
Sterigenics Ethylene Oxide Emissions in Willowbrook
Because EtO is both toxic and highly reactive, exposure and explosion risks are reduced by using equipment and processes which are tightly regulated, isolated, and automated. Still, workers and residents near plants which use or product ethylene oxide can still be exposed through uncontrolled industrial emissions.
Sterigenics owns 9 ethylene oxide sterilization plants in the U.S, including one industrial facility consisting of two separate structures in Willowbrook:
- 7775 South Quincy Street (est. 1984)
- 830 Midway Drive (est. 1999)
The two buildings house 19 sealed chambers in which medical devices, food products, and pharmaceuticals are sterilized and processed using ethylene oxide. Over the years, the Willowbrook Sterigenics plant has faced considerable criticism over EtO emissions and mismanagement of risks posed to local residents.
Here’s a brief timeline of significant events:
- 1989 – A report from the Toxics Release Inventory finds nearly 170,000 pounds of ethylene oxide had been released from the Willowbrook sterilization plan in 1987, when it was owned by Griffith Micro Science.
- 1999 – Sterigenics International and Griffith Micro Science are acquired by Ion Beams Applications, a Belgium-based medical technology company. The second facility on Midway Drive is built.
- 2003 – The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) studies over 18,000 workers at 17 sterilization facilities, and fines EtO causes lymphomas and breast cancer.
- 2004 / 2011– The former Sterigenics and Griffith Micro Science plants are acquired by a UK equity firm, and are rebranded as Sterigenics International. It’s later purchased by a Chicago equity firm co-founded by Bruce Rauner, GTCR, in 2011.
- Dec. 2016 – Following a second review from independent scientists, and years of research on EtO, the EPA publishes an updated EtO cancer risk assessment, declaring ethylene oxide a carcinogen and revising safety limits for EtO.
- Aug. 2018 – The EPA releases a new National Air Toxics Assessment detailing air pollutant health risks based on emissions data from 2014. Areas near Sterigenics in Willowbrook are among the 109 census tracts facing cancer risks in excess of EPA guidelines.
- Oct. 2018 – Sterigenics is sued in state court by the Illinois Attorney General and the state’s attorney of DuPage County.
- Dec. 2018 – Testing performed near the Sterigenics plant finds alarming levels of EtO, despite new pollution controls implemented by the company four months prior.
- Feb. 2019 – IL Gov. Pritzker orders the Illinois EPA to prohibit the Sterigenics Willowbrook plant from using ethylene oxide. New test results from the U.S. EPA reveal the highest concentrations of EtO in Willowbrook since testing began in May 2018.
Although Sterigenics struck a deal in July 2019 that would allow it to reopen after installing additional emission control equipment, and agreed to pay $300,000 toward projects intended to benefit the local community and environment, many locals have called for it remained closed. Similar concerns about EtO emissions have radiated into other Illinois communities nestled near industrial sterilization plants, including Medline Industries in Waukegan and Vantage Specialty Chemicals in Gurnee
Sterigenics’ Time Has Come: Let PRS Help You In the Fight for Justice
PRS is a Chicago-based civil trial law firm that’s secured record-setting results in highly complex cases, earned national recognition among the Best Law Firms, and has recovered over $4 billion in compensation for clients. Our team is passionate about supporting our local communities, and helping in their fight for justice against powerful corporations that care more about profits than people.
Sterigenics’ time has come, and lawsuits are mounting against a facility that for too long exposed innocent people to hazardous emissions. You may have a potential claim if:
- You lived or currently reside near the Sterigenics sterilization plant in Willowbrook and developed cancer / other adverse health effects.
- You worked at the Sterigenics Willowbrook plant and developed cancer or another health condition; or
- Your loved one was diagnosed with a fatal cancer due to possible proximity to the Sterigenics plant, or has since passed away.
PRS is a powerhouse trial practice that leverages experience, expertise, and tremendous resources for our clients – while also providing the personal support they deserve during difficult times. Call (312) 313-0202 or contact us online to speak confidentially with an attorney. Case evaluations are free, and there are now costs to hiring our firm.