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32 victims sickened by ethylene oxide file new lawsuits against Sterigenics

CHICAGO (August 20, 2019)–Victims filed 32 new lawsuits against Sterigenics over exposure to cancer causing chemical ethylene oxide on Monday. The suits add to the 11 that have already been filed in Cook County Circuit Court.

“Sterigenics has been emitting ethylene oxide into the air near Willowbrook for decades, knowing that it is a carcinogen with potency and danger on par with radiation,” said Antonio Romanucci of Romanucci & Blandin, LLC, one of the law firms representing Sterigenics victims, at a press conference on Tuesday. “Hundreds of thousands of have been exposed and tens of thousands have been sickened. Now, thousands of victims are being represented in these lawsuits seeking justice. Tens of thousands more will be sickened in the future–and no one knows how many have already died as a result of this noxious poison.”

The victims and their attorneys spoke out against plans to reopen the currently shuttered Sterigenics.

“My husband was the strongest man I ever knew. He fought tirelessly until his last day to create real change and that’s exactly what he did through the Matt Haller Act,” said plaintiff Colleen Haller. “That fight against this company and to hold them responsible is going to continue forward through me and our son and this case.”

Jana Conev also filed suit on Monday. Conev runs a daycare, Conev’s Cradle.

“This company has impacted every aspect of my life. It has affected my home value, it has affected my business, and most importantly it has affected my family’s health,” said Conev. “I had breast cancer, my husband has cancer, my one daughter has had a miscarriage. This company has taken everything from me and it’s time they leave and answer for what they’ve done.”

“No amount of ethylene oxide inhalation is acceptable. We stand behind the community of Stop Sterigenics and our clients demanding the plant does not reopen using ethylene oxide. Alternative methods of medical sterilization are available and they must be used,” said Romanucci.

“If allowed to reopen, Sterigenics will only further devastate generations of residents in the community,” said Patrick Salvi II of Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard P.C. “Our clients’ civil lawsuits seek to hold Sterigenics to account for continuing to put profits over people.”

An August 2018 report revealed dangerous levels of ethylene oxide in the area surrounding Sterigenics’ Willowbrook facilities. Sterigenics denied responsibility and publicly claimed that the ethylene oxide levels were caused by vehicle emissions, local construction sites, and a nearby diesel generator. But after the Illinois Attorney General issued a seal order and stopped Sterigenics from using ethylene oxide in February 2019, the detected levels of ethylene oxide in the area plummeted by about 90 percent, indicating not only that Sterigenics was the predominant cause of ethylene oxide in the area, but that Sterigenics initial attempt to misdirect responsibility was disingenuous. Now Sterigenics is offering the public a new story.

Sterigenics now claims there is no viable alternative to using ethylene oxide for sterilizing medical supplies.

“Not only are safe alternatives available, but Sterigenics has exclusive rights to an FDA-approved nitrogen dioxide sterilization process which does not require polluting entire communities with a known carcinogen,” said Steven Hart of Hart McLaughlin & Eldridge.

Sterigenics now claims it can reduce ethylene oxide emissions in Willowbrook to 85 pounds per year.

Based on Sterigenics’ self-reporting, it released about 6,000 pounds of ethylene oxide into the Willowbrook community per year since 2010, which is about 70 times more than what it claims is now feasible. Since opening in Willowbrook in 1984, Sterigenics had years where it emitted over 100,000 pounds of ETO with some years approaching 200,000 pounds.

“The truth is that Sterigenics has known about the dangers of ethylene oxide for decades. In the 1990s, Sterigenics acknowledged the hazardous and carcinogenic effects of ethylene oxide and was already aware that multiple sterilization alternatives were available,” said Dan Kotin of Tomasik Kotin Kasserman.

“Rather than act, the company and its stakeholders did nothing,” said Todd Smith of Power Rogers & Smith, LLP. “Instead of undertaking reasonable measures to protect the community where it operates, Sterigenics took private equity money from companies like GTCR and placed profits over people. Because Sterigenics failed to behave responsibility when it should have, countless lives have been lost and families devastated, the residents of Willowbrook, Burr Ridge, Darien, and others are living in constant fear, and the property values across the entire area have been decimated.”

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