Articles Posted in Environmental Contamination

smog-219x300In the summer of 2008, the Chinese city of Beijing hosted the Olympic Games. The event has frequently been called the most polluted Olympics ever and many remember seeing the images of Beijing skyscrapers barely visible through a thick layer of hazy smog. What many Americans may not know, however, is that the same type of air pollution from Particulate Matter emissions has been linked to the premature deaths of many women and men right here in the United States.

According to a study published this year, more than 30,000 deaths in the United States in a single year may have been caused by exposure to Particulate Matter air pollution. The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS Medicine, examined deaths in 2015 to determine how many could be attributed to exposure to Particulate Matter air pollution. Researchers estimated that Particulate Matter pollution was responsible for the deaths of 15,612 women and 14,757 men in 2015 alone. The risk of premature death was greater in areas with lower income and higher poverty rates than in wealthier counties. Communities of color and communities where fewer residents had completed a high school education were also at greater risk.

What is Particulate Matter?

breast-cancer-1-3-300x215October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual health campaign that raises awareness and support for the 1 in 8 women in the United States that will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. Bringing awareness to this disease is important because breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide. Sadly, on average a woman in the United States is diagnosed with breast cancer every 2 minutes. Breast cancer also impacts men, though it is rare.

Breast cancer treatment and chances for survival can vary greatly depending on the type of breast cancer and when it is diagnosed. As the more than 3.5 million breast cancer survivors in the United States today are well-aware, treatment may include surgery to remove the cancer (lumpectomy), to remove lymph nodes, or even to remove the breast entirely (mastectomy). Breast cancer treatment also frequently involves some combination of radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, targeted therapy drug therapy, and immunotherapy.

Although death rates have decreased since 1989, nearly 42,000 women in the United States are expected to die in 2019 from breast cancer. The decrease in death rates is believed to be the result of advances in treatment and research, earlier detection through screening, and increased awareness of the disease and its risk factors.

ethylene-oxide-300x208“The announcement that Sterigenics has decided not to reopen its Willowbrook facility, while a victory for the people fighting Sterigenics’ unsafe ethylene oxide emissions, is also a sad reminder that it should never have been allowed to operate there in the first place. For years, Sterigenics spewed its cancer-causing chemical into a neighborhood filled with schoolchildren, teachers, moms and dads who had no idea they were ever in danger. Dozens of lawsuits filed against the company claim that Sterigenics’ chemical emissions gave them cancer or, even worse, caused the death of a family member. I hope news of the company’s closing is of some solace to them, and that no community will ever again be treated as callously as they were.”

Sterigenics-300x202“I am disgusted, but not surprised, by the Illinois EPA’s decision to grant Sterigenics a permit to reopen. This is the same state agency that, in 1984, gave the operator of the Willowbrook plant a permit to emit ethylene oxide into the local community in quantities that the state knew posed an unacceptable cancer risk to local residents.

 With this latest permit issuance, Illinois has proved once again why it cannot be trusted to protect its citizens.  It seems more interested in protecting Sterigenics’ right to make a profit.

For many years, Sterigenics has spewed a very dangerous carcinogen into a residential community.  It never warned the people who live and work there. Children.  Parents. Students. Teachers. Youth sports team players and coaches. Workers in the local shops. It never gave them a chance to protect themselves.  By these actions, Sterigenics forfeited its right to operate here.

water-1154080_1920-1024x680In the United States, more than 13 million households rely on private wells to get their drinking water. But unlike municipal sources of drinking water, like a town or city, private wells are not regulated by the government. Instead, private well owners are responsible for the safety of their own drinking water.

To make sure that private well water is free from contaminants, wells should be tested at least once a year. Yet, routine water tests for private wells are uncommon in Illinois and in other places across the country. Without these tests, however, families have no way of knowing whether their private well water is safe to drink.

Testing your well water is important because it’s the only way to determine whether it contains chemicals or other contaminants that may be harmful to your health. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency warns that the following contaminants are commonly found in private well water:

Since the ingredients in many traditional cosmetic products pose a health risk, it’s no wonder that consumers are searching for “natural” and “clean” products. In fact, in-house research at Sephora shows that 54% of itssephora-450966_1920-300x216 shoppers are looking for brands that are “free of” certain ingredients. As a result, new brands positioning themselves as “cleaner” alternatives to traditional cosmetics are exploding. “Natural” brands made up approximately one-quarter of all higher-end skincare sales in 2018, reflecting this consumer trend towards “clean” and “natural” products.

Cosmetics retailers are noticing the trend, and “natural” products are moving from specialty stores to the mainstream marketplace. Major stores like Target and CVS are expanding their “natural” cosmetics offerings and Sephora, already carrying an expansive line of “natural” beauty products, launched a clean beauty initiative, giving products that are free of toxic ingredients a special green label. That all sounds great! But, what do “natural,” “clean,” and “green” actually mean in the cosmetics world?

Nothing! No governing body regulates those terms, so a company can call a product “natural” or “clean” and define the term however it wants. And, there is a lot of incentive to do so, since 90% of consumers believe that natural beauty ingredients were better for them. Usually, “natural” means plant-based and “clean” means free of certain products, such as parabens, phthalates, or sulfates. However, nothing guarantees this, and some consumers are starting to catch on. For example, a recent class-action lawsuit  accuses Tarte Cosmetics of misleading consumers. The complaint alleges that Tarte’s “high-performance naturals” line includes synthetic ingredients and that the “natural” label misleads consumers into purchasing synthetic products. This is just one example of the cosmetics industry taking advantage of consumers’ fear of toxic chemicals.

coal-ash-photo-300x188Among news of federal regulations being scaled back and reports of the drastic climate change situation, it’s nice to hear about a state taking action to protect the environment. This summer, Illinois did just that. Governor Pritzker signed the Coal Ash Pollution Prevention Act, which protects Illinois residents and the environment from the dangerous effects of toxic coal ash.

So, what’s coal ash and why is it dangerous? Coal ash, also called “coal combustion residuals,” is the group of byproducts produced from burning coal. The byproducts include waste from each process in the coal plant, like “bottom ash” sitting at the bottom of the coal furnace and “fly ash” that’s captured going out the smokestacks. Coal ash is one of the largest types of industrial wastes in the United States. Nearly 130 million tons of coal ash was generated in 2014. About one-third of coal ash is recycled, but the majority is either dumped into landfills at the power plants or mixed with water and put in “ponds” behind earthen walls.

Coal ash can be incredibly dangerous to humans and the environment. Depending on where the coal was mined, coal ash can contain heavy metals, such as arsenic and lead. If you eat, drink, or inhale them, heavy metals can cause cancer and nervous system malfunctions, such as developmental delays. They have also been linked to kidney disease, reproductive problems, heart damage, lung disease, birth defects, and impaired bone growth. When coal ash is improperly disposed of, in coal ash ponds that lack protective liners, for example, it can leach into the water, carrying toxic substances into drinking water supplies. Over 100 communities nationwide have been impacted by coal ash leaching. Some impacted communities in Illinois include Waukegan and Peoria.

clothesline-804812_1920-300x200The companies who sell plug-in air fresheners advertise how they make your house smell clean and fresh, and show you photos that make it appear as if the fresheners are bringing nature right into your home. What the commercials don’t say is that plug-in air fresheners may also be bathing your house in toxic chemicals that can harm your health.

One of the primary concerns with plug-in air fresheners is their use of phthalates. In fact, the National Resources Defense Council conducted a study that concluded that 86% of the air fresheners tested contain phthalates. Why is this a problem? Phthalates are disruptive to the body, alter hormone levels, interfere with testosterone, and are associated with reproductive abnormalities and birth defects.  They can also cause asthma and allergic reactions. And studies in animals show an alarming possibility of a link to cancer and liver and kidney toxicity.

But there is more. Air fresheners also typically contain formaldehyde, a toxic compound that is definitely linked to cancer of the nose and throat. Formaldehyde can also cause irritation of the throat and airways, potentially leading to infections and other respiratory ailments. In fact, a study in 2013 done by the International Journal of Public Health found that babies whose mothers used plug-in air fresheners during pregnancy were far more likely to have a serious lung infection than babies whose mothers did not.

yasmeen-1-300x206The Collins Law Firm has filed a lawsuit against Sterigenics alleging that its client, 16-year-old Yasmeen Harrison, has battled cancer for most of her young life because of Sterigenics’ ethylene oxide emissions. According to the lawsuit, Sterigenics knowingly emitted “massive and unnecessary amounts of ethylene oxide, an invisible, odorless carcinogen” into neighboring communities, including Willowbrook, Burr Ridge, and Darien, starting in 1985 and continuing through 2019. As a result, residents like Yasmeen and her family, who lived, worked and attended school in those communities were “exposed to an unacceptably high level of ethylene oxide and therefore exposed to an unacceptably high risk of cancer”, said attorney Shawn Collins. Moreover, Sterigenics ignored an IL EPA engineer’s 1984 letter alerting them to the cancer risk associated with ethylene oxide exposure and forged ahead with the facility without warning neighbors of the danger.

The lawsuit, filed in the Circuit Court of Cook County, was brought on behalf of Yasmeen Harrison, who was diagnosed in 2005 with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) as a toddler. But that was just the beginning of her arduous journey. After a brief period in remission, the cancer returned in 2007. To combat this recurrence, Yasmeen-4-216x300Yasmeen underwent a bone marrow transplant, but then contracted another cancer—myelodysplastic syndrome– in 2009. After a second bone marrow transplant and rocky recovery, things seemed to be looking up, when it was discovered in 2017 that Yasmeen had yet another cancer. This time it was kidney cancer.  Surgery followed and today that cancer is in remission. The lawsuit alleges that Yasmeen’s exposure to Sterigenics’ ethylene oxide as an infant, as well as her mother’s exposure while pregnant, contributed to her cancer.

“Helping people like Yasmeen who have been irreparably harmed by the reckless and wrongful conduct of polluters is the reason we practice law. We believe that the lawsuits we are filing will bring justice to Yasmeen, her family and the other families who are suffering from devastating illnesses. Yasmeen has been so brave and tenacious throughout her long battle; it is now time for us to take up the mantle and fight for her.” said Shawn Collins, partner at The Collins Law Firm.

SterigenicsThe Collins Law Firm has filed eleven lawsuits against Sterigenics alleging their clients  contracted cancer after being exposed to Sterigenics’ ethylene oxide emissions for years. According to the lawsuits, Sterigenics knowingly emitted the cancer-causing gas starting in 1985 and continuing through 2019. As a result, residents who lived or worked in the nearby communities, including Willowbrook, Burr Ridge, and Darien, were exposed to a carcinogen that raised their cancer risk many times above the national average, according to a government report. Moreover, Sterigenics operated their facility without apparent concern for the health of nearby residents and without warning them of the potential danger.

“Our law firm is dedicated to protecting people from reckless and wrongful conduct by corporate polluters. It is our expectation that these lawsuits will bring justice to these families whose lives have been devastated by catastrophic illness. We also hope that, when Sterigenics’ behavior over the years is exposed publicly through our lawsuits, the State of Illinois will finally shut the company down permanently.” said Shawn Collins, partner at The Collins Law Firm.

The lawsuits, filed in the Circuit Court of Cook County on Monday, are brought on behalf of our clients who have suffered from or lost a loved one to, breast cancer, multiple myeloma, Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leukemia, and T cell lymphoma. All of the plaintiffs lived for a number of years within close proximity to the Sterigenics plant in Willowbrook, Illinois. This plant, which emitted ethylene oxide for years, is within a mile of 20,000 people and four schools.

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