Articles Posted in Environmental Contamination

SterigenicsThe Collins Law Firm has filed eleven lawsuits against Sterigenics alleging their clients have 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, lymphocytic lymphoma, 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.

According to a new report, the state of Illinois has the most leaking coal ash dumps in the United States.

utility-power-plantCoal ash is the waste that is left over after coal is burned. Most coal ash is created by coal-fired power plants that combust coal to produce electricity. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), living next to a coal ash disposal site can increase your risk of cancer. It can also increase your risk of developing other health problems such as heart disease, reproductive issues and neurological damage in kids. This is because coal ash often contains numerous heavy metals and carcinogens, including arsenic, lead, and mercury.

Coal ash is one of the biggest types of industrial waste produced in the United States. The EPA notes that in 2012 alone, 470 coal-fired electric utilities generated around 110 million tons of coal ash. For decades, the utility industry disposed of this waste by irresponsibly dumping it unlined ponds and landfills where coal ash chemicals are free to seep into groundwater.

trump-2546104_1920-300x211Since taking over, the Trump Administration has wreaked havoc on the environment, destroying environmental protections left and right. Trump has targeted rules that he thinks are burdensome to big business, even though environmental protections are generally good for the economy. Closing his eyes to this fact, Trump issued the “Presidential Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth.” This Order directs the heads of agencies, like the EPA, to review all existing regulations “that potentially burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resources, with particular attention to oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy resources.”

Trump’s Executive Order has certainly been efficient at endangering the earth. As of June 2019, the Trump Administration has rolled back or is in the process of rolling back over 80 environmental rules and regulations. These rollbacks and proposed rollbacks reach every aspect of the environment, from emissions to endangered species. Rollbacks currently in effect include:

  • Lowering fines for automakers who do not meet average fuel efficiency standards

The Sterigenics facility in Willowbrook, IL has been using ethylene oxide (EtO), a known human carcinogen, to sterilize medical and other equipment since the 1980s. Recently, U.S. EPA and the Village of Willowbrook tested the air around the Sterigenics facility and found alarming amounts of this chemical in the air near schools and other locations by the facility. These dangerous EtO levels prompted Illinois EPA to issue a Seal Order that shut down sterilization operations and use of EtO at Sterigenics on February 15, 2019. Sterigenics has not been permitted to use or emit EtO since.

willowbrook-protest-225x300After the Seal Order was issued, the community and their elected officials did not rest. They continued to fight to ensure that EtO cannot bring any more harm to their neighborhood or to other neighborhoods across Illinois. As a result of their advocacy, the Illinois Legislature passed Senate Bill 1852, which went into effect on June 21, 2019. This new law is known as the Matt Haller Act and was named in honor of a 45-year-old Willowbrook resident who passed away earlier this year from stomach cancer. Haller had lived approximately 1 mile from the Sterigenics plant and advocated for its closure. The Matt Haller Act is purported to impose the strongest restrictions on ethylene oxide use in the nation.

Despite the Matt Haller Act, the Seal Order and the community’s fight to live in an EtO-free environment, Sterigenics has not stopped pushing to emit more carcinogenic EtO into the community’s air. Just days after Governor Pritzker signed the Matt Haller Act, Sterigenics asked Illinois EPA for a construction permit which would allow it to operate and use EtO under new conditions, such as a taller emissions stack. Sterigenics filed this construction permit application on June 24, 2019.

still-life-1460067_1920-1024x683Each morning, before going about your day, do you spritz on your favorite perfume? Next time you do, look at the ingredient list. You’ll probably see the word “Fragrance.” Seems appropriate for a perfume, but what exactly is it? Turns out, a whole bunch of chemicals that could be toxic.

The word “Fragrance” on any product’s ingredient list refers to the mixture of natural and synthetic chemicals that give your products that pleasant smell. Even unscented products may list “Fragrance” as an ingredient, because chemical companies may need it to counteract foul-smelling ingredients to give the product a neutral odor. A 2010 study on perfumes and colognes found that, on average, there were 14 secret chemical ingredients in the fragrance cocktail that consumers do not see listed on the product label. Compared to the average 15 listed ingredients, almost half of the ingredients in your perfume are a secret.

Smells fishy, but why is that so bad? Well, to start, many of those secret ingredients are associated with allergic reactions. Fragrance is among the top five allergens in the world! The study discovered over 24 chemicals that could act as allergy triggers, possibly causing a variety of symptoms, such as headaches, dizziness, rashes, coughing, vomiting, and skin irritation. Keeping in mind that these chemicals could trigger you and those around you, fragrances can pose a serious risk to a large number of people.

chimney-3705424_1920-1024x646Talk about federal government overreach! The EPA is planning to weaken rules that allow local communities to have a say in deciding how much pollution in their backyard is too much.  If the agency’s proposed changes go into effect, local individuals and community advocates would no longer be able to appeal to a panel of judges EPA-issued pollution permits that they oppose. More precisely, the new rule would allow the industrial polluter to appeal to the panel to INCREASE its allowed pollution, but the affected community could not appeal to REDUCE the pollution! The proposed rule change is so bad that even industry lawyers seemed surprised by its inequity.

This outrage is just the latest act of environmental sabotage by the EPA since Donald Trump took office.  Other efforts to roll back environmental regulations that protect public health include a rule weakening regulations of greenhouse pollution from power plants (hello, climate change), a coming plan to weaken rules on tailpipe pollution, and a proposal to open most of the US coastline to oil drilling.

Environmental law experts say the proposed rule change will give polluters an even stronger influence over the EPA and could lead to more lenient pollution permits which would hurt poor and minority communities who tend to live closer to polluters than more affluent citizens. The end result for many communities would be that they would no longer have a voice in decisions–made by the pro-pollution EPA– that would affect their homes and their health.

EPA’s Air Pollution Chief, Bill Wehrum, recently announced his plans to resign. This announcement comes just two months after the sam-bark-R1GWSOJ9cng-unsplash-300x200House Committee on Energy & Commerce started investigating him for potential federal ethics rules violations. Wehrum’s conduct came into question when Wehrum allegedly provided conflicting information to Congress about his ties to his old law firm and the Utility Air Regulatory Group, a lobbyist group that fights Clean Air Act regulations.

Before joining EPA, Wehrum worked as a lawyer and lobbyist for power companies seeking to scale back air pollution rules. His client list included the Utility Air Regulatory Group. In his position at EPA, Wehrum met with some of the Utility Air Regulatory Group’s members, which might be a violation of the federal ethics rules that require that he recuse himself if they were his former clients. Given his “industry first” attitude that has loosened air pollution rules, it’s not a surprise that people question Wehrum’s motives.

Wehrum’s departure is definitely something to celebrate. He looked out for industry to the detriment of human health and the environment by wreaking havoc on environmental regulations. During his one and a half years at EPA, Wehrum championed industry, rolling back the Obama Administration’s farthest-reaching air policies. Most recently, he finalized the so-called Affordable Clean Energy rule, which helps the coal industry by reducing carbon emissions by less than half of what experts say is necessary to avoid a climate change catastrophe. Wehrum also played a role in relaxing tailpipe emission standards and changing how EPA measures the health effects of air pollution. In the Chicago-area, he showed a complete disregard for the health of communities affected by ethylene oxide emissions from Sterigenics by agreeing that it is possible for Sterigenics to reopen if they implement stricter pollution controls. It’s certainly not a shame to see Wehrum leave!

It started with a letter to Congress.

Seven past EPA chiefs, appointed by both Democratic and Republican presidents, wrote to Congress in April. They were concerned aboutUS-EPA-1-300x300 the direction of the current EPA and offered to help Congress use its oversight to put a halt to Trump’s misguided deregulatory push and the dismissal of science in favor of politics at the agency.

The seven EPA leaders signing the letter had served under Obama, Reagan, and both Bushes, so the current administration could not blame the letter on partisan politics.

Starting in 1984, the Sterigenics plant in Willowbrook, IL consistently emitted a chemical known as ethylene oxide into the air. These air emissions continued until February 15, 2019 when Illinois EPA ordered Sterigenics to stop operating because it found that Sterigenics’ emissions posed a danger to public health.

Ethylene oxide is a colorless, flammable, gas which Sterigenics uses to sterilize medical and other equipment. In the summer of 2018, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (a branch of the CDC), alerted the Willowbrook community that there is an elevated cancer risk for residents and those who work in the community near the Sterigenics plant. Using air samples taken by EPA in commercial and residential areas within a mile of the plant, ATSDR estimated that Sterigenics’ ethylene oxide emissions were making nearby residents 64 times more likely to get cancer.

On May 29, 2019 U.S. EPA hosted an Open House and Community Meeting to provide an update on its work to better understand the ethylene oxide emissions from the Sterigenics facility. At the meeting, U.S. EPA updated the community on the air testing it conducted over 49 days between mid-November 2018 and the end of March 2019. The Agency tested the air at 8 locations within a couple miles of the facility for ethylene oxide. The graph below shows that the levels of ethylene oxide that U.S. EPA found in the air while the plant was still operating dropped significantly after the plant was forced to close. This drop in emissions led U.S. EPA to conclude that the facility is responsible for a significant amount of the ethylene oxide detected.

A cancer diagnosis is scary, sometimes devastating. pink-ribbon-3715346_1920-1-300x200 But it is all the more so if your cancer might have been caused by exposure to a toxic chemical in your home, air or water.  There is a true sense of violation and betrayal when a cancer victim realizes that her illness might have been caused, for example, by the careless dumping of industrial chemicals by a company in her neighborhood.  It may even be a company where the cancer victim herself, or a family member, worked for many years.

What should she do to find out if the company—the neighborhood polluter– caused her cancer? And beyond that, how can she find out if she has a toxic tort lawsuit against the polluter for her cancer?

To get answers to these questions, you will need to find an environmental lawyer who handles these kinds of cases—called “toxic exposure” cases.  Here are some of the critical questions that an experienced toxic tort lawyer will explore:

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