Articles Tagged with Air pollution

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

Willowbrook has been in the news recently because of a federal government report which revealed that Sterigenics has been contaminating the community with a carcinogen known as ethylene oxide for decades, resulting in a significantly elevated cancer risk for nearby residents. This situation reminds me of some similar cases I was involved in: the Lockformer lawsuits in Lisle, IL.

My name is Shawn Collins. I’m the lawyer whose firm–The Collins Law Firm in Naperville– represented a community of families in those cases. In three separate cases, we successfully won from the polluter (Lockformer, in Lisle) $27 million in property damage; a generous settlement (the precise amount remains confidential) for a young woman who had contracted cancer from exposure to the chemical; tens of millions more for a fund for future cancer victims; and a safe, clean water supply for hundreds of area families.

The saddest but most meaningful case was the one for the young cancer victim. Her illness is why we are right to take so seriously toxic contamination in our communities. We don’t want devastating illness to happen to anyone we love.

Are you looking for an experienced environmental attorney for your Willowbrook, IL cancer case? The Collins Law Firm is investigating and filing toxic tort lawsuits for people who developed cancer after living or working within 3 miles of the Sterigenics plant in Willowbrook. We are currently representing multiple clients with breast cancer, multiple myeloma, Non-Hodgkins lymphoma, and other cancers linked to ethylene oxide exposure.

The Collins Law Firm Can Help You Investigate a Possible Cancer Lawsuit

woman-3602245_1920-thumb-300x200-106626-thumb-300x200-106627-thumb-300x200-106632-300x200We are a trusted, environmental personal injury law firm, and we have been representing clients diagnosed with cancer after being exposed to toxic chemicals for years. We are unique among personal injury firms because we have decades of experience dealing with the complex science that is a part of these “toxic tort” cancer cases. These lawsuits are not typical personal injury cases, like the car crashes or slip and falls, which most personal injury firms handle. They are an environmental lawsuit and a personal injury case blended into one complex case and require the right kind of scientific experts and legal experience.

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