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Willowbrook Residents Demand Answers About Facility's Toxic Emissions

For decades, Willowbrook residents may have unknowingly inhaled a cancer-causing gas emitted by a local Sterigenics International industrial plant. Today, with help from the personal injury lawyers of Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard P.C., they are seeking answers. They are also exploring their legal options against those responsible for the potentially toxic exposure.

“We had no idea that this was here, that this was happening,” one Willowbrook resident told ABC 7 News at a recent rally outside of the facility. “To find out that this was here the whole time, poisoning our kids, poisoning our community, poisoning our air.”

Report Finds Potential ‘Elevated Cancer Risk’ and ‘Public Health Hazard’

On August 21, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) released a report that stunned residents of this small Chicago suburb in DuPage County. The report analyzed the presence of the toxic gas, ethylene oxide, in air samples which researchers collected in May 2017 from commercial and residential areas around the Sterigenics facility.

If those samples represent typical concentrations of ethylene oxide in the air, “an elevated cancer risk exists for residents and off-site workers in the Willowbrook community” surrounding the plant, and that risk presents “a public health hazard to these populations,” the report concluded.

An official from Cleveland-based Sotera Health, the parent company of Sterigenics, told The Chicago Tribune that the company had “serious concerns” about whether the report accurately assessed the cancer risks. The official noted that the company upgraded its Willowbrook facility in July 2018 and reduced its current ethylene oxide emissions “by over 90 percent.”

However, for those exposed to the toxic gas over a period of many years, the company’s actions may be too late. They may already suffer from cancer, birth defects and other serious health issues associated with ethylene oxide. Attorneys Patrick A. Salvi, Aaron D. Boeder, Andrew J. Burkavage, and Heidi L. Wickstrom have started our law firm’s investigation into the cases of numerous Willowbrook residents.

Change in Cancer Risk Assessment Led to Closer Look at Willowbrook Plant

Sterigenics has long stored ethylene oxide at the Willowbrook facility. It is a colorless gas that the company sprays into sealed chambers to sterilize medical equipment, pharmaceuticals, and food products, according to the ATSDR report. The use of the chambers traces back to 1984 in one building. The chambers in a second building were built in 1999 and 2012.

In December 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Integrated Risk Information System found a 30-fold increase in ethylene oxide’s “adult-based inhalation [cancer] risk.” The system changed its description of the gas from “probably carcinogenic to humans” to “carcinogenic to humans.” In 2017, the ATSDR evaluated the implications of those changes at the Sterigenics facility in Willowbrook and an Ele Corporation facility in Cook County.

The ATSDR’s August 21 report focused on only the Willowbrook plant. It is one of nine ethylene oxide sterilizers that Sterigenics operates in the U.S. According to the report, nearly 20,000 people live within one mile of the facility. Four schools, including Gower West Elementary School, as well as a day care are also located within a mile of it.

To study the ethylene oxide levels in the air, the ATSDR collected 39 samples from 26 locations in commercial and residential areas north of I-55 and Route 83. The agency used the data from those samples to determine the effect of long-term exposure to ethylene oxide at those levels. The report noted that a lack of “historical air monitoring in the community” has made it “difficult to assess long-term public health implications.”

The report recommended that the Illinois Department of Public Health investigate “whether there are elevated cancers in the population surrounding the Sterigenics facility that are consistent with those associated with chronic [ethylene oxide] exposures.”

As ABC 7 News reports, many Willowbrook residents have called for the plant to be shut down until further investigation is conducted. However, it continues to operate.

Are You Concerned About Exposure to Ethylene Oxide in Willowbrook?

Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard P.C., has protected the rights of innocent injury victims and their families throughout Illinois since 1982. Today, our firm features a cutting-edge 18,000-square foot office in downtown Chicago as well as an office in Waukegan. In August 2017, our firm obtained a $148 million premises liability verdict that represents the highest personal injury compensatory verdict awarded to an individual in Illinois history and which ranks among the top 15 verdicts reported in the U.S. in 2017.

If you believe that you or a loved one has suffered cancer or other health issues related to ethylene oxide emissions from the Sterigenics International plant in Willowbrook, we have the skill, experience and resources to help you. Call or reach us online today to discuss your case with one of our attorneys in a free, no-obligation consultation.

Patrick A. Salvi

Patrick A. Salvi concentrates his legal practice in several limited areas primarily involving a trial practice in cases concerning serious personal injury, medical malpractice, wrongful death, and mass torts. Mr. Salvi has achieved record-breaking jury verdicts and settlements on behalf of his clients, including serving as lead counsel in obtaining an Illinois record-high $148 million jury verdict and a Lake County record $33 million jury verdict.

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