Willowbrook Illinois-based Sterigenics International Inc. has been hit with numerous lawsuits within the past month, alleging civil battery, negligence, strict liability, and public nuisance for knowingly emitting ethylene oxide.
Sterigenics used ethylene oxide to sterilize medical equipment and other products. This sterilization process emits ethylene oxide, which, according to a report from the U.S. Cancer Institute, is “highly irritating to the eyes, skin, and respiratory tract, induces nausea and vomiting, and causes central nervous system depression.” It is also a mutagenic in humans and chronic exposure is associated with an increased risk of leukemia, stomach cancer, pancreatic cancer, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.”
In August 2018, the United States Department of Health and Human Services released a consultation letter regarding the health impacts from ethylene oxide emissions and concluded that Willowbrook residents and workers alike are at an increased risk of cancer and other health issues, such as neurological effects, respiratory effects, and gastrointestinal effects.
One of the lawsuits filed was on behalf of Ryan Feeney, a 26-year-old who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. According to the complaint, Feeney has lived in close proximity of Sterigenics for over 22 years and also attended Hinsdale South High School, which is within a one-mile radius of the facility. Feeney was diagnosed with the disease in 2010.
Another lawsuit was filed as a class action against Sterigenics and GTCR LLC for their decades-long emissions of ethylene oxide. The lawsuit contends that, for 34 years, Sterigenics has knowingly emitted ethylene oxide into the air, allowing the community and the surrounding area to be contaminated by a highly carcinogenic chemical.
In a public statement, an attorney for the class action stated that “these families and many others in the area now have to go about their daily lives knowing they’re living and breathing a harmful, carcinogenic chemical that shouldn’t have been used in the first place.” He went on to say “this chemical, ethylene oxide, has been a known human carcinogen in the United States and international world since the mid-20th century…Sterigenics needs to be held responsible for the injuries they’ve caused and the damage they’ve done to the families and their homes.”
A third lawsuit was filed by Susan Kamuda, a cancer survivor, and long-time resident of Willowbrook. After hearing the USDHHS report released in August, she started to think that the known carcinogen was the cause of her own cancer. Kamuda has lived less than half a mile from Sterigenics since 1985. She told Chicago’s CBS news that she chose to file the lawsuit because she wants to stop them from “poisoning” the neighborhood.
In a statement released by a spokesperson for the company, Sterigenics said: “Unfortunately, the community has been exposed to a lot of inaccurate and misinterpreted information and we are committed to getting the real facts to residents who, based on what they have been hearing and reading, are understandably concerned.” The statement also said that the ethylene emissions have always been well below the permitted levels.