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Sterigenics Lawsuits: Will Settlements Relieve Victims?

by | Jan 4, 2024 | Personal Injury

Sterigenics arrives at a $408 million settlement to wind up more than 870 Sterigenics lawsuits.

The sterilizing company made this announcement on January 9, 2023, in the lawsuits alleging that their Willowbrook facility’s release of the cancer-causing chemical ethylene oxide put people’s lives in jeopardy.

However, Sterigenics added that “We will continue to vigorously defend against allegations about our ethylene oxide operations and emissions.”

Will this settlement wipe out the woes of the victims? Let’s analyze the course of the Sterigenics lawsuits.

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Evolution of Sterigenics

Sterigenics International is a company that sterilizes medical devices, food products, and pharmaceutical products and functions across the globe. They have large storages of ethylene oxide for the sterilization process.

Headquartered in Oak Brook, Illinois, Sterigenices International LLC has around 50 facilities in 13 countries worldwide.  Sterigenics International, then known as the Radiation Sterilizers INC., established its first Gamma facility in California in 1978.

An equity firm co-founded by Bruce Rauner, a former republican, took over Sterigenics in 2011. Though the toxic EtO emission was happening on one side, the company downplayed its risks.

On November 7, 2017, Sterigenics International LLC changed its parent company name to Sotera Health LLC.

It caught public attention when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency published its report on the areas at cancer risk from toxic air pollution in August 2018.

More than 254,000 pounds of ethylene oxide was said to have been released into the neighborhoods by their Willowbrook facility alone from 1993 to 2017.

As per the EPA, the following Sterigenics locations are still functioning despite facing criticism.

  • Sterigenics U.S., Inc., Los Angeles (Vernon), CA
  • Sterigenics US, LL., Ontario, CA
  • Sterigenics U.S. LLC, Atlanta, GA
  • Sterigenics US, LLC, Charlotte, NC
  • Sterigenics- Santa Teresa, NM
  • Sterigenics US LLC Queensbury, NY
  • Sterigenics U.S. LLC, Grand Prairie, TX
  • Sterigenics- Salt Lake Facility, Salt Lake City, UT

Sterigenics Timeline

Sterigenics-lawsuits-timeline

 Sterilization Process

The products that need to be sterilized will be placed in a container, and ethylene oxide will be released into it. After sterilizing the medical equipment, the EtO is pumped out of the container, and the residual EtO is allowed to dissipate slowly.

The health concern arose when high levels of ethylene oxide leakage occurred, exposing the workers and the residents around the area.

Do you know what ethylene oxide is? It’s a colorless, sweet-smelling gas called EtO or EO, which is used to make other chemicals, or as a pesticide, a disinfectant, and a sterilizer. It is also used with other chemicals to reduce irritation while using them in cosmetic, personal, or disinfectant products.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and International Agency for Research on Cancer have identified Ethylene oxide as a human carcinogen.

As Ethylene oxide is frequently found in workplaces, consumer products, and the environment, people can be exposed to it by ingestion or inhalation.

The largest EtO levels can be detected in and around industrial facilities that produce or utilize it, as well as in and around medical facilities where it is used to sterilize equipment.

Willowbrook Facility

Sterigenics-lawsuits-facilities-in-willowbrook

Out of the twenty-nine ethylene sterilization plants, Sterigenics owns in America, Willowbrook has two separate industry structures- one in South Quincy Street (est. 1984) and the other one in Midway Drive (est. 1999).

The Willowbrook facility had 19 sterilization chambers to sterilize medical devices, food products, and other pharma products.  It had been emitting EtO from the time of its inception until 2019, when it was finally shut down.

It had faced a lot of criticism over the periodic EtO emissions and failure to handle the leakage, which led the local people to be exposed to the toxic gas.

In August 2018, the residents of the area were warned that the toxic EtO emission posed a high cancer risk to more than 19,000 people living around the facility.

The people from six suburbs- Darien, Burr Ridge, Hinsdale, Indian Head Park, Willowbrook, and Western Springs were highly at cancer risk.

Risks from Ethylene Oxide Exposure

Even at low exposure levels, ethylene oxide can become toxic, affecting even the central nervous system. At higher exposure levels, EtO can cause changes to the DNA and lead to congenital deformities in newborns.

The ethylene oxide-related cancers are:

  • Bladder cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Lymphocytic leukemia
  • Myeloma
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma

The other adverse side effects of EtO are:

  • Congenital disabilities
  • Irritation to the eye, nose, and throat
  • Respiratory issues
  • Neurological ailments
  • Memory loss

People who have developed these side effects should ensure that their medical records are error-free, with all their ailments ensued from EtO exposure recorded in them. This will make your claim more valid while pursuing your lawsuit.

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Evidence of the Carcinogenic Nature of EtO

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (“NIOSH”) came to a conclusion in a 1977 article that exposure to EtO at work could increase the prevalence of genetic mutations. Concerns about EtO’s ability to cause cancer were also expressed in the NIOSH report.

In a second report published in 1981, the NIOSH suggested that EtO be considered a possible occupational carcinogen.

New evidence of EtO’s carcinogenic, mutagenic, and reproductive dangers, such as research showing that EtO caused cancer in experimental animals, served as the foundation for the NIOSH’s recommendation.

As a result of these discoveries, the World Health Organization (“WHO”) classified EtO as a Group 1 (highest risk classification) human carcinogen in 1994.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) fact sheet on EtO published in 2002 by the U.S. Department of Labor states that “both human and animal studies show that EtO is a carcinogen.” It mandates that employers post obvious signs and labels warning employees of the “carcinogenic and reproductive hazards” of EtO.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the 2014 National Air Toxic Assessment (NATA) on August 22, 2018, a screening tool that estimates cancer risks based on emission data from 76,727 precincts across the country.

According to the 2014 NATA, 109 census tracts in the United States have cancer risk scores of more than 100 cases per million people exposed to toxic air pollution during their lifetime, which is higher than what the US EPA considers “acceptable” limits.

Two of the tracts were located around the Sterigenics facility in Smyrna, Georgia, and four other tracts were found to have elevated cancer risks.

Sterigenics facility consistently emitted between 2,200 and 3,500 pounds of carcinogenic EtO from 2002 to 2015.

Consider Sterigenics’ most recent and highly publicized EtO leak as evidence of the facility’s fugitive emissions and concealment of them.

The incident didn’t come to light until the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published an internal business report about the leak. It involves a drum containing EtO leaking through a gas valve on July 31, 2019, but no one knew about it until then.

The Sterigenics facility was the subject of an inquiry by Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division (GA EPD) after the leak in July 2019. Since 2015, the Sterigenics facility has experienced nine more EtO leaks and/or incidents, according to the GA EPD. They were on

  • February 3, 2015
  • November 11, 2015
  • November 15, 2016
  • January 31, 2017
  • June 11, 2017
  • April 2, 2018
  • July 10, 2018
  • July 17, 2018
  • April 10, 2019

“Stop Sterigenics Movement”

When she was an adolescent, Jeanne Hochhalter started experiencing health issues. The respiratory problems appeared first, followed by digestive and endocrine problems. But, her diagnosis of breast cancer in 2013 dealt her the worst hardship.

As an Illinois resident, she was exposed to EtO emissions for decades. In August 2018, when her mother attended a town hall meeting on EtO emissions, she realized the cause of suffering.

Hochhalter and her neighbors wanted to direct their wrath into a successful outcome for their neighborhood. They conducted studies, staged protests, and called for the closure of the Sterigenics plant.

They influenced local elected officials by forming neighborhood organizations like EtO Sleuths and Stop Sterigenics.

The Stop Sterigenics Pollution in Willowbrook NOW, the Facebook group, was formed on August 30, 2018, to fight against the facility to stop cancer-causing ethylene oxide emissions and to save the people of Illinois. Later it was renamed Stop Sterigenics.

Citizens 4 Clean Air, NFP was established as a 501(c)(4) on January 4, 2019, with the goal of promoting the abolition of ethylene oxide emissions into the atmosphere.

Stop Sterigenics and Citizens 4 Clean Air started working together to draw the curtains of the Sterigenics facility in Willowbrook.

In June, the Illinois legislature approved a bill that required each facility to reduce its ethylene oxide emissions by 99.9 percent. The Willowbrook Sterigenics facility was permanently closed in September 2019, just over a year after the town hall meeting.

Their success prompted the people of Waukegan, Georgia, to fight against the Medline Industries sterilization facility to put a temporary end to its EtO emission.

However, the Georgia plant was reopened during the Corona pandemic under emergency orders, despite many of the Sterigenics lawsuits. People are still fighting against it to close it.

Sterigenics Class Action Lawsuit

The first class action lawsuit was filed by Attorneys Power Rogers Smith LLP and Korein Tillery LLC on behalf of plaintiffs Julie Cannell, Pamela McGonigal, and others.

Julie Cannell was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014. She said, “My parents moved to Willowbrook because my dad felt like we were living in the country, with fresh air and plenty of open spaces.” She added, “This wasn’t supposed to happen.”

On September 20, 2018, a lawsuit was filed against Sterigenics for causing adverse health issues like neurological effects, excessive thirst and dry mouth, respiratory irritation, gastrointestinal effects, and cancer risks.

Experienced lawyers are still fighting against Sterigenics to get justice for the victims. Medical record review firms like LezDo TechMed can shoulder with your ethylene oxide cancer attorneys in finding out the strengths and weaknesses of your claim.

Experience Our FREE Medical Record Review Service

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Victims & Sterigenics Lawsuits: An Overview

Sterigenics-lawsuits-victims-of-EtO-emissions

While the booming Styerigenics lawsuits filed against the Willowbrook facility and the recent settlement are drawing the attention of many, lawsuits against the Sterigenics plant in Smyrna, Georgia, by the people of Cobb County are still pending.

Let’s see the stories of a few victims affected by the emissions of EtO.

Quinn Buczek:

A Utah man Quinn Buczek was a resident of Georgia from 2005 to 2020. He lived within the two to five-mile radius of the Sterigenics facility. He was diagnosed with B-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in 2018. Only in July 2019, with the EPA’s inquiry report came after the 2019 EtO leak, he came to know the root cause of his suffering.

Stacey Guido:

Stacey Guido’s husband, Robert Guido, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2017. His place of employment was within the 1-mile radius of the Sterigenics facility in Willowbrook. Until the release of the ATSDR report, they were unaware of the cause of his woes.

Dawina Brewer:

This Georgia resident was diagnosed with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma in 2015. She was exposed to EtO throughout her life (2000-2020) in Smyrna, Georgia, as she lived within the 2-mile radius of the Calibre Lake Parkway Sterigenics facility.

Heather Schumacher:

The 39-year-old complainant claims she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2007 and has fertility issues. She also claims she lived close to the Willowbrook facility from 1978 to 2002.

In 2019, Ms. Schumacher said, “My biggest fear is that I will not be around to see my children one day.”

Yasmeen Harrison:

Her father, Ivan Harrison III, said, “When she was 2, she was initially diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.”

“No one could ever tell us the cause of why she got leukemia, relapsed, and later got kidney cancer,” he added.

Yasmeen underwent numerous operations and treatments for various illnesses, including leukemia and kidney cancer, in her childhood and teenage instead of enjoying life like other kids.

Matt Haller:

Matt Haller was diagnosed with stomach cancer and fought for his life. He also tried his best to turn the attention of the government to this EtO emission.

When a few of the former Sterigenics employees came forward to attest that the EPA was unaware of the amount of EtO emission from the facility, Matt Haller was happy that some whistleblowers were ready to discuss the scary reality behind the EtO exposure.

“It’s what it’s all about for me now. Whistleblowers, whistleblowers, come forward. Tell your story. Tell us what you know, and let’s fight. Let’s fight this for the community. Please.”

Haller told CBS in 2019, “”My son is 4 years old, and you really wonder is he going to remember me? I’m not going be able to teach him to play hockey, and you know so much loss. When you look forward, you just see loss.”

His case made the government make a law on the amount of EtO a company could emit in Illinois. However, he did not live long enough to see that, as he died shortly after the interview.

Julian Glick:

Julian Glick was diagnosed with leukemia. He said, “Every time I went to the hospital, I just had a terrible feeling in my stomach, like I don’t know if I’m going to come back. I thought I was going to die. It was a very scary feeling,”

Olivia and Roslyn Gill:

Olivia Gill was diagnosed with leukemia when she was two years old in May 2019. Her parents, Adam and Roxanne Gill, claimed that Olivia was essentially unrecognizably changed by the chemotherapy.

Their younger daughter was born with abnormalities and suffered developmental delays. The parents came to know of the EtO exposure from the EPA’s 2018 report.

Susan Kamuda:

Susan Kamuda filed a Sterigenics Willowbrook lawsuit in Clark Nevada Court System, Eighth District Court located in Clark, Nevada. She and her son were exposed to the harmful emissions, and she developed breast cancer, whereas her son Brian had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

According to data from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Willowbrook census tract had a cancer risk that was 99.9 percentile.

In the Kamuda v Sterigenics lawsuit, the jury awarded $363 million in compensation, including punitive damages, in September 2022.

Susan Kamuda’s case was the first one trialed and received a favorable verdict. The Judge Marguerite Quinn of the Illinois Circuit Court agreed to her claim that her exposure to ethylene oxide emissions for more than 20 years caused her breast cancer.

This plaintiff-favored Sterigenics verdict gives hope that other plaintiffs also will get reasonable compensation.

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Teresa Fornek:

Teresa Fornek was diagnosed with leukemia in her 20th year. She filed a lawsuit in 2018 against Sterigenics for causing her T-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia and miscarriage.

Her case ended in a defense-favored verdict in November 2022. Her option to appeal the verdict is still bright.

It is said that her evidence could not prove her suffering was caused by EtO exposure from the Willowbrook facility.

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Sterigenics Lawsuits and Allegations

The Sterigenics lawsuits alleged that Sterigenics has a duty to its employees and the residents living around the facility. They breached that duty in the following ways.

  • Chose a densely populated area to operate their facility and thereby exposing the residents to unsafe levels of EtO, which led to cancer risks.
  • They neglected the fact that the facility is surrounded by residential areas, schools, parks, government buildings, and other important businesses.
  • Emitted massive amounts of carcinogenic EtO into the air.
  • Utilized Eto to sterilize products when other safer measures could have been used without posing higher health risks.
  • Keen on reaping economic benefits and compromising the health of the citizens.
  • Failed to warn the workers and residents of the harmful effects of EtO, like mutating genes, which can affect the future generation.
  • Failed to warn the workers and residents that they are exposed to EtO.
  • Became the cause of cancer and other ailments and led to the death of many people.
  • Failed to do adequate research on the adverse impact of EtO emission from the facility and the quality of the air in the surrounding regions.
  • Failed to employ safer methods to use, control, or mitigate the EtO emission from the facility, which could play havoc on the health and well-being of the employees and the people living nearby.

Susan Kamuda’s lawsuit quoted that many former employees of Sterigenics have come forward with allegations listed below.

  • Sterigenics routinely allowed chamber doors, aeration doors, and exterior doors to be left open, allowing EtO to permeate to the air directly.
  • They modified the Facility’s EtO detection systems to allow for increased tolerance of EtO.
  • They instructed staff to disregard warning lights in the facility that indicated high levels of EtO.
  • They used off-site warehouse facilities devoid of pollution control or ventilation systems to store sterilized products that were still releasing EtO while simultaneously leaving the exterior doors of those facilities open, causing the EtO to directly enter the environment.
  • They directed employees to dump or wash toxic chemicals, including EtO and ethylene glycol, into the sewer system.
  • They instructed an employee to take a leaking drum of EtO outside the facility.

Sterigenics Lawsuit Settlement

Followed by the settlement in Susan Kamuda’s case, Sterigenics decided to settle more than 870 Sterigenics lawsuits against the Willowbrook facility and announced a settlement of $408 million on January 9, 2023.

Sterigenics stated that they wanted to settle the lawsuits to save the time and cost of litigating each case separately. They are also not ready to face “years of biased media coverage in the Chicago area.”

The company stated that the settlement agreement did not mean that they had admitted their liability for injuries from the EtO emission from their facilities.

It is anticipated that the settlement agreements will be finished in 90 to 120 days.

Homes Devalue Claims

The news of many people living in a 2 to 3-mile radius developing various kinds of cancers has led to different kinds of lawsuits against Sterigenics. Since the Georgia Sterigenic facility became notoriously famous for endangering the residents, the Cobb County Board of Tax Assessors started devaluing the properties by 10%.

More than 100 homeowners from Cobb County filed home devalue lawsuits against Sterigenics as the highest reading of dangerous chemical emission has devalued their homes and properties.

Four more property damage claims are moving forward, asking for jury trials as of January 2023.

Let’s wait and see how Sterigenics is going to handle the pending Sterigenics Ethylene Oxide cancer claims and homes devalue claims.

Latest Updates in October 2023

Sterigenics settles 79 home devalue claims filed by the plaintfs of Cobb County for a $35 million payout. The claims are dismissed with prejudice, and the plaintiffs cannot reopen their claims for any means later. However, the company has not admitted liability.

How Can I Prove that Sterigenics Caused My Ailments?

Are you or your loved one living within close proximity of any Sterigenics sterilizing company? Do you think your cancer or other ailments might be connected to the EtO exposure? Contact your healthcare provider to identify the cause of your suffering.

If EtO exposure is behind your suffering, never hesitate to pursue a Sterigenics cancer claim against the healthcare giant.

Get an experienced Sterigenics ethylene oxide exposure attorney to steer your claim forward.

Prove that you have lived around the facility for long enough to develop cancer or other chronic ailments. Find evidence that the EtO led to the birth of children with congenital defects.

To connect the dots between your diseases and the period of EtO exposure, contact a well-experienced medical record review service like LezDo TechMed.

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To wind up,

When chemical companies fail to think about the harmful emissions from their facilities, the innocent population is exposed to carcinogens for years without their knowledge.

Even when they develop adverse health impacts, they would be in the dark about the cause of their destiny.

We cannot say that all the chemical plants should be out of the U.S. They, too, serve the country in multiple ways. But, it is the responsibility of every chemical company to find out the safest methods to utilize the substances without polluting the environment and risking the lives of people.

Hope the Sterigenics lawsuits settlement brings some awareness among the people who live around such chemical plants emitting harmful gases.

To know more about the pending Sterigenics lawsuits in 2024, follow our blog. We will update periodically.

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