Sterigenics Settlement for Ethylene Oxide Leak Lawsuits Results in Agreement to Pay $408M
Following massive leaks for toxic gas from manufacturing facilities, Sterigenics has reached a $408 million settlement to resolve lawsuits alleging ethylene oxide caused cancer and other health problems for residents in nearby neighborhoods.
Sterigenics’ parent company, Sotera Health, announced the ethylene oxide settlement agreement in a press release issued on January 9.
If approved, the settlement will resolve more than 870 Sterigenics lawsuits over ethylene oxide leaks filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, and at the state level in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois.
Ethylene oxide is a highly carcinogenic compound used to sterilize some medical devices, including those made of some polymers, metals, glass or made with multiple layers with hard-to-reach crevices. However, exposure to ethylene oxide has been linked to serious and potentially life-threatening injuries.
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In March 2019, the FDA warned that the Sterigenics plant in Willowbrook, Illinois was being shut down due to massive leaks, sparking a flood of ethylene oxide exposure lawsuits. 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. That facility was shut down temporarily to address the problem, and similar Sterigenics lawsuits have been filed over the other leaks as well.
The first Illinois lawsuit against Sterigenics went to trial last year, ending in a $363 million verdict for Sue Kamuda, who claimed she had developed breast cancer due to ethylene oxide leaks from the Willowbrook facility. She also argued that her son developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma due to the exposures as well.
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 Ethylene Oxide Settlement
According to the Sotera Health announcement, the $408 million deal depends on nearly all plaintiffs signing on and agreeing to dismiss their claims. The company hopes to finalize the settlement in 90 to 120 days.
“A claims administrator will be appointed to allocate the settlement funds among the settling plaintiffs,” the press release states. “The plaintiffs will have 30 days upon receipt of their proposed settlement allocations to consult with their lawyers and to opt into the settlement.”
The company also says the Sterigenics settlement agreement is not an admission of liability for injuries allegedly caused by the ethylene oxide leaks. The company claimed it was pressured into the agreement to avoid additional likely legal expenses due to “biased media coverage in the greater Chicago area”.
In addition to the prospect of massive liability at trial, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also announced it was proposing new ethylene oxide air pollution regulations in August. 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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