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Articles Tagged with Willowbrook

high-angle-shot-of-suburban-neighborhood-1546168-1024x576Last week, the EPA’s Inspector General issued a report slamming his own agency for failing to alert Americans living near plants using a chemical known as ethylene oxide (EtO) that their health is in danger because EtO is such a potent cancer-causer. The report concludes that:  “The EPA needs to inform residents who live near facilities with significant [EtO] emissions about their elevated estimated cancer risks so they can manage their health risks.”   

A bit of background:  In 2016, the EPA finally joined other health agencies in classifying EtO as “known” to cause cancer in humans–specifically breast cancer, lymphomas, and leukemias.  In fact, the EPA found that EtO is 30 times more dangerous to human health than the agency had previously recognized.  Case in point:  for the community of Willowbrook, IL, a Chicago suburb, EtO concentrations measured in 2018 testing resulted in a cancer risk 6,400 times the 1 in 1 million risk that the EPA considers “acceptable”.  I and other lawyers represent dozens of Willowbrook area residents who have filed lawsuits claiming that exposure to EtO emitted for decades by a local plant known as “Sterigenics” caused their, or a deceased loved one’s, cancer.  

With this 2016 finding, the EPA had committed to warning the residents living near the nation’s 25 plants using ethylene oxide.  These residents are in danger because, after the EtO is used in those plants to kill bacteria during the process of sterilizing medical equipment, the potentially lethal chemical is then released from the plant through vents or stacks (and sometimes doors and windows), where air currents often push it into the nearby homes, school, churches, parks, and businesses of adjacent residential communities. 

Shawn-3-Copy-300x177Yesterday, lawyers for the plaintiffs in the cases against Sterigenics held a press conference to expose what we have recently learned about the apparent attempts of Sterigenics and its corporate owners to make it more difficult for our clients who prove their cases to receive just compensation.  As we detail in our newest court filing (and as summarized below), in the two years since the federal government in 2016 concluded that ethylene oxide is 30 times more potent of a carcinogen than previously believed, Sterigenics and its owners have taken $1.3 billion in cash out of the company, put it in their own pockets, and replaced it with money borrowed from banks.  The effect of this is to put company cash and other assets out of reach of plaintiffs who prove that Sterigenics caused their cancers.

Rest assured:  we will expose this behavior, get to the bottom of it, and hold Sterigenics accountable in court for anything they have done here that is unlawful.  We will bring this behavior before the Judge and jury, and demand justice—which includes just compensation for our clients who prove their cases.

This past Friday, we filed an amended complaint adding new allegations to our lawsuits. The new allegations are as follows:

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, the 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 the 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.

Last week, Governor Rauner finally joined the group of elected officials calling for the shutdown of the Sterigenics facility in Willowbrook. Officials had pressured Rauner to take action to protect the community after weeks of public outcry following the recent release of a report about cancer-causing emissions coming from the plant.

Bruce_rauner_cropped-thumb-356x519-106443-thumb-250x364-106444-205x300That report, written by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, detailed a three-decade-long contamination of the Willowbrook area with a toxic carcinogen, ethylene oxide, by Sterigenics. The authors of the report came to the conclusion–after evaluating ethylene oxide testing done near the facility last May–that the emissions from Sterigenics posed “a public health hazard” and an elevated cancer risk for the community. In fact, the report estimated the cancer risk of exposed residents in the area to be 64 times the EPA’s acceptable lifetime risk.

Understandably, residents, many of whom already had cancer or who had lost a family member to cancer, were outraged. How could this have happened and how could any elected official allow it to continue happening?

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