Breast Cancer Lawsuit Over Sterigenics Ethylene Oxide Leaks Results in $363M Jury Award
An Illinois jury has awarded $363 million to a woman who developed breast cancer from ethylene oxide leaks from a Sterigenics sterilization facility.
Ethylene oxide is a highly carcinogenic compound, which is used by Sterigenics and other companies to sterilize some medical devices, including those made of some polymers, metals, glass or made with multiple layers with hard-to-reach crevices. However, there have been a number of Sterigenics ethyene oxide leaks in recent years from plants in Illinois and Georgia, resulting in lawsuits brought by area residents left with serious and life-threatening injuries.
The first Sterigenics trial to go before a jury involved a breast cancer lawsuit filed by Sue Kamuda, who says she developed breast cancer and her son developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma due to ethylene oxide leaks over the course of three decades from a Sterigenics facility in Willowbrook facility.
Following a trial in Illinois Circuit Court, the jury ruled Sterigenics should pay Kamuda $38 million in compensatory damages, and an additional $325 million in punitive damages.
Sterigenics officials said the company is evaluating its options, including possible appeals, following the verdict. However, the jury award sends an alarming signal for the company about the extent of liability it may face if settlements are not reached to resolve hundreds of individual claims.
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Problems with Sterigenics ethylene oxide leaks first emerged in March 2019, when the FDA warned that a plant in Willowbrook, Illinois was being shut down. Shortly thereafter, another facility in Michigan was also closed down for similar reasons, and = Georgia health officials determined similar leaks were occurring at a Sterigenics facility outside of Atlanta in August 2019.
Hundreds of Sterigenics lawsuits and class action claims have been filed over the ethylene oxide leaks.
New Ethylene Oxide Regulations
Last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it was proposing new ethylene oxide air pollution regulations.
The EPA has been collecting information to promulgate Clean Air Act regulations for ethylene oxide since 2018, involving data about the risks from 100 commercial sterilizers across the U.S.
The agency intends to review Clean Air Act regulations regarding the sterilizing gas, expand environmental reporting requirements for sterilization facilities, use enforcement options where appropriate, re-evaluate how the gas is used and how to reduce ethylene oxide exposure risks to workers and those living hear facilities, and continue to research and better understand the toxic gas and its health effects.
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