Sterigenics faces lawsuits brought on behalf of individuals who developed cancer following chemical emissions from a medical device sterilization plant in Illinois.
Last week, at least 32 complaints were filed in Cook County Circuit Court, in Chicago, alleging cancer caused by the release of ethylene oxide into the air near the Sterigenics Willowbrook facility. The cases join 11 other previously filed claims.
A federal judge recently remanded the previously filed cancer lawsuits back to state court in Illinois on August 15, after Sterigenics failed in an attempt to remove the litigation to federal court, claiming that it was protected from state laws because it followed federal Clean Air Act laws. However, Chief Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer, of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, rejected the company’s arguments.
In March, the FDA warned that the Sterigenics plant, as well as another facility in Michigan, were being shut down. Both facilities sterilized medical devices, and both were reportedly experiencing ethylene oxide leaks, which is a highly carcinogenic compound.
In April, the FDA announced that the facility shutdowns resulted in a shortage of some medical devices which relied on ethylene oxide for sterilization procedures, including pediatric tracheostomy tubes. The agency has scrambled in recent months to find a replacement.
The agency indicated it was working to secure alternative locations and methods for sterilization for the devices processed at the facility; however, the steps failed to stop the shortage of breathing tubes.
The Sterigenics lawsuits come amid reports that the company is trying to reopen the facility, resulting in a public backlash.
The community was first warned of high levels of ethylene oxide in Willowbrook by an August 2018 report, which specifically centered the high levels of the cancer-causing compound on the Sterigenics plant. However, plant officials tried to claim that the ethylene levels were due to vehicle emissions, construction sites and anything but their facility, which specifically produced ethylene oxide.
The plant was ordered shut down in February by the Illinois Attorney General. Upon closing, ethylene oxide air pollution in the area plummeted 90%.
Several weeks ago, a deal to reopen the plaint came as part of a consent order between Sterigenics and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. Sterigenics says it has to produce ethylene oxide, as there is no alternative for medical device sterilization.
While the company says it can reduce releases from 6,000 pounds per year to about 85 pounds per year, many residents in the area do not believe them, given their past claims that they were not the cause in front of extremely obvious evidence.