Ethylene Oxide/Sterigenics Updates

Articles Tagged with cancer

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 a devastating illness to happen to anyone we love.

The Chicago Tribune recently reported on a new federal study by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) – released just last week – that highlights a danger to Willowbrook residents who live near Sterigenics International, at 830 Midway Drive and 7775 S. Quincy St., in Willowbrook, IL. According to the report, the people living near this facility face a higher cancer risk from toxic air pollution than much of the rest of the country.

Why? Apparently, Sterigenics uses and stores a toxic gas called “ethylene oxide” to sterilize medical equipment, and has been releasing that cancer-causing chemical into the air since at least 1995.

Ethylene oxide has been listed on the federal list of carcinogens as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” since 1985. In 2000, that listing was revised to “known to be a human carcinogen”. Finally, in 2016, the US EPA – after much delay – released a new assessment of the toxic gas that concluded that ethylene oxide was even more dangerous than originally thought.

“Does this chemical cause cancer?” is one of the first questions I get from a mom or dad who has just learned that, unbeknownst to them, a toxic chemical from an industrial source has been in their family’s air or water supply for years.

I always caution that, even if the chemical(s) just discovered in their home or neighborhood can cause cancer, it does not mean that they will. In fact, in most contaminated homes and neighborhoods, statistics are on our side: the great majority of residents will not contract cancer as a result of exposure. The important thing is to understand and respect the dangers of these chemicals, and, depending on their toxicity, get your family out of harm’s way…..by, for example, supplying your home with bottled water to avoid, as much as possible, contact with the contaminated groundwater entering the home via your family’s kitchen tap, or installing a “vapor mitigation system” on your house to prevent contaminated gasses from intruding inside where your family will breathe them.

For this reason, it is important to be informed. This link from the American Cancer Society tells us what our most respected health agencies have concluded about the dangers of many chemicals, and specifically whether they are “known” or “suspected” to cause cancer in humans (given significant exposure over a long enough period of time). https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/general-info/known-and-probable-human-carcinogens.html

Thumbnail image for agriculture-2229_1920.jpgIf many of us went to our garages or sheds, we would find “Roundup,” a popular lawn and garden weed killer sold by Monsanto. Since its commercial introduction in 1974, Roundup has become the most widely used weed killer in the United States, and possibly the world. In fact, Roundup is used in more than 160 countries internationally, with more than 1.4 billion pounds being applied to lawns and farms across the world annually.

The main ingredient in Roundup is an herbicide called “glyphosate.” Once glyphosate is applied to a plant, it prevents the plant from making certain proteins that are necessary for its continued growth. In order to allow for large-scale use of glyphosate on farms, crops have been genetically modified to be resistant to this herbicide.

After the introduction of genetically modified crops in the 1990s, the use of glyphosate increased fifteen-fold across the United States. Glyphosate use continues to increase each year across the United States. Specifically, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, North Dakota, and southern Minnesota have some of the highest glyphosate usage in the United States.

In March 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) gathered seventeen of the world’s top cancer researchers to evaluate glyphosate, a primary component of the popular weed-killer, Roundup. The seventeen member workgroup was led by Dr. Aaron Blair, a recently retired epidemiologist from the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

Over a year-long period, the workgroup reviewed nearly 1,000 peer-reviewed and published scientific studies. Based on the results of these studies, IARC unanimously classified glyphosate as a Group 2A chemical, “probably carcinogenic to humans.” This categorization is given when there is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals. Of the nearly 1,000 chemicals reviewed by IARC to determine the carcinogenic effect, fewer than 100 have received this designation.

The studies reviewed by IARC discussed glyphosate exposure and its connection to various serious health effects. They linked glyphosate exposure to non-Hodgkin lymphoma, various other types of cancer, kidney disease, heart disease, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and chronic respiratory illness. Studies further supported a connection between glyphosate exposure and attention deficit disorder, autism, birth defects and reproductive issues, even infertility.

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