In September, a Cook County jury awarded $363 million to an Illinois woman who developed breast cancer from her long-term exposure to ethylene oxide emissions from a medical device sterilization facility near her home.
The verdict is the first of its kind to address the health risks associated with exposure to the hazardous chemical, which is often used to sterilize medical equipment and spices and produce various consumer products, including plastics. It’s also highlights the dangers faced by communities near the approximately 100 other sterilization facilities that use ethylene oxide, and the liability of those facilities for cancers and other health conditions developed by those nearby.
Alert: Ethylene oxide litigation is ramping up nationwide. Levy Konigsberg is actively investigating claims from individuals across the country who have been diagnosed with cancer after living near sterilization facilities. Learn more about Ethylene Oxide lawsuits or contact us for a FREE consultation.
About the Case
Kamuda v. Sterigenics involved a now 70-year-old woman who alleged that ethylene oxide used at the Sterigenics facility in Willowbrook caused her breast cancer. According to the complaint, the Plaintiff was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007. She had no family history of the disease but had lived just several hundred yards away from a Sterigenics plant for over 30 years.
That plant, which opened in 1984, was used by Sterigenics to sterilize medical devices and other products using ethylene oxide (EtO), a colorless, odorless gas that has been linked to the development of certain cancers. Notably, the facility was also the subject of a seal order issued by Illinois authorities in February 2019 that resulted in its closure until changes were made to reduce EtO emissions. Sterigenics ultimately chose to not reopen the facility.
As part of her claims, the Plaintiff alleged that Sterigenics knew of the health risks related to EtO exposure but failed to control its emissions or notify members of the neighboring community. The jury ultimately sided with plaintiff, awarding her $38 million in compensatory damages and $325 million in punitive damages.
Verdict May Set the Stage for Future EtO Litigation
The Kamuda case is the first of more than 760 lawsuits against the Sterigenics Willowbrook facility to go to trial, and its verdict could signal that it and other sterilization facilities across the country may soon face a growing number of claims – especially considering the number of people who live near these plants. The Sterigenics Willowbrook plant, for example, has at least 19,000 people living within a mile radius of its facility, as well as several schools.
Like Kamuda, these lawsuits will rely on growing evidence from the EPA and other environmental and public health researchers regarding the dangers of EtO exposure. This includes a 2020 Draft Risk Assessment in which the EPA found that “inhaling Ethylene Oxide over many decades can cause cancer risks of concern.” These risks are most concerning for people who live close to sterilization plants and facilities that use or produce ethylene oxide.
The EPA has also noted that:
- Long-term EtO exposure has been linked to the development of blood cancers such as Hodgkin’s lymphoma, myeloma, and lymphocytic leukemia), breast cancer, and other cancers.
- Children are most susceptible to EtO exposure and are more likely to develop cancer later in life due to childhood exposure.
- Chronic EtO exposure cause also cause cognitive and neurological symptoms, including impaired memory and motor control.
Levy Konigsberg is Investigating Sterilization Plant EtO Exposure Claims
Levy Konigsberg is currently investigating claims from individuals who developed cancers or other health conditions after living or working near a sterilization facility. According to the EPA, there are at least 100 such facilities currently in operation across the country. Nearly two dozen facilities have been identified by the EPA as contributing to an elevated cancer risk among nearby residents.
Were you or someone you love exposed to harmful ethylene oxide emissions? Learn about the names and locations of facilities with known ethylene oxide emissions on our Ethylene Oxide lawsuits page or contact us to speak with a lawyer about your rights and options.