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Over 700 Injury Claims Filed Against Sterigenics. Were You Injured?

Posted On February 18, 2021

More than 700 lawsuits have been filed against Sterigenics for injuries related to toxic ethylene oxide emissions in Willowbrook, Illinois.

Toxic Pollutants Poisoning Willowbrook

In 2018, Sterigenics, a facility based in Oak Park, Illinois, was hit with hundreds of lawsuits by Illinois residents. Lawsuits alleged that the Willowbrook plant was knowingly releasing toxic ethylene oxide, a known carcinogen, into the air causing serious illness to area residents. Complaints and lawsuits thrust Sterigenics into a national spotlight that resulted in an investigation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Sterigenics’ Willowbrook facility specializes in the sterilization of surgical instruments and medical devices used by physicians, medical facilities, and hospitals around the county. The sterilization process uses a chemical called ethylene oxide (EtO) which has been determined to be a toxic air pollutant. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), EtO poses significant health hazards to humans. Long-term exposure can cause nausea and vomiting; headaches and fatigue; lung damage; reproductive damage; genetic changes; cyanosis; neurotoxicity; and cancer.

Sterigenics claims their sterilization process using EtO is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and meets all safety regulations set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). However, ethylene oxide was added to the federal list of known carcinogens in 1985. Recent research shows the chemical is easily absorbed through the lungs, and it is far more dangerous than previously thought. In 2016, the EPA concluded that exposure to even small concentrations of ethylene oxide can cause leukemia, lymphoma, and breast cancer.

There are currently over 700 lawsuits filed against Sterigenics, as well as two managers; Sotera Health, the parent company; Griffith Foods, the previous parent company; and GTCR, a private equity firm and investor. Chicago workers’ compensation lawyers are seeing many lawsuits filed by Sterigenics employees and area residents. Lawsuits filed in the Circuit Court of Cook County, allege injuries and illnesses including miscarriages, breast cancers, lymphoma, and leukemia.

Over the last year, Chicago community activists in the western suburbs have been fighting to drive Sterigenics out of Willowbrook. The village mayor and community leaders threatened to seize the company’s sterilization plant through eminent domain. Illinois lawmakers promised to protect residents by closing the facility permanently. 

In September 2019, Sterigenics announced plans to cease its operations at the Willowbrook facility. The facility is now closed, but Sterigenics officials are blaming closing on a failure to broker an agreeable new lease deal and an unstable regulatory landscape.

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