Attorney Shawn Collins, founder and partner of The Collins Law Firm in Naperville, Illinois, was instrumental in forging a $408 million settlement of the cancer claims of more than 800 plaintiffs in In re Willowbrook Ethylene Oxide Litigation, venued in Illinois State Court (Cook County). The claims arose after a federal government report announced in 2018 for the first time that a sterilization plant in Willowbrook, IL–operated by Sterigenics, LLC, and its predecessors–had been emitting a chemical known as ethylene oxide 24 hours a day into the residential community’s air for more than 30 years. Once it left the Sterigenics’ plant, the colorless, odorless ethylene oxide silently migrated a great distance, exposing people in homes, workplaces, and schools.
Ethylene oxide is widely used in the sterilization of medical devices and other items. It has been classified as a known human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA). It is especially dangerous to children.
Until the release of the government’s 2018 report, the residents of the Willowbrook area had never been told that such a dangerous chemical was infiltrating their community on a daily basis, or indeed at all. The more than 800 plaintiffs in the litigation were typically those who had been breathing the ethylene oxide—unknowingly—for years. After years of inhalation, most were then diagnosed with breast cancer, or lymphoma or leukemia—the cancers most strongly associated in medical studies with exposure to ethylene oxide.