Ethylene Oxide/Sterigenics Updates

When You Need a Lawyer Who Will Fight for You

Firm News - Part 3

Lawsuit: Six Former Teachers Say Sterigenics Gave Them Cancer

Sterigenics knew for years that its emissions exceeded safe levels, but neglected to warn staff at nearby Hinsdale South High School, lawsuit claims

NAPERVILLE, Ill., Dec. 27 - Six former Hinsdale South High School teachers sued Sterigenics U.S. in Cook County Circuit Court today, alleging that their cancers were caused by exposure to highly toxic ethylene oxide (EtO) emissions from the company's Willowbrook, Ill. plant -- located less than a mile from the school.

EtO is a Group 1 human carcinogen, the World Health Organization's highest cancer-risk classification.

The lawsuit alleges that from 1984 through its recent closure in 2019, Sterigenics -- which sterilizes medical equipment and pharmaceuticals -- knew about the adverse health impacts from chronic EtO inhalation but failed to prevent emissions or warn the community about EtO risks. Instead, for 24 hours a day, Sterigenics saturated Willowbrook's air with the cancer-causing chemical -- forcing the carcinogen upon Willowbrook area residents and businesses.

"EtO is unsafe at any level," says Naperville environmental lawyer Shawn Collins, who represents the plaintiffs. "The carcinogenic effects of EtO have been widely known since the 1940s. Still, Sterigenics chose to operate its business and emit EtO in a densely populated area full of children, houses, parks, schools, and businesses. A plant as dangerous as this should never have been located in a residential community."

"Technologies to control EtO have been in use since the 1980s," adds Collins, "but Sterigenics operated for years in Willowbrook without using the best practices and controls to reduce its emissions. As a result, Willowbrook became one of the most toxic towns in America."

The plaintiffs, who all spent significant portions of their teaching careers at Hinsdale South were diagnosed with either breast cancer or Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, two of the most common types of cancers resulting from EtO exposure.

  • Dr. Mary Margaret Eskey taught at Hinsdale South from 1978 to 1996. After she started suffering from fatigue, severe bone and body aches, and chronic infections, she was diagnosed in 2013 with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma (Waldenstrom's macroglobulinemia);
  • Marguerite Vahldieck taught at Hinsdale South from 1982 until a breast-cancer diagnosis compelled her retirement in 2012. She endured a lumpectomy, lymph node removal, radiation, and anti-cancer meds for five years;
  • Carol Tufo, a counselor at Hinsdale South from 1981 to 2001, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, undergoing a biopsy, lumpectomy, lymph node dissection, eight rounds of chemotherapy and 33 radiation sessions;
  • Jeanne Conrad-DeBroeck taught full time at Hinsdale South from 1979 until 1999 and then as a substitute teacher until 2011. After her breast cancer diagnosis in 2015, she had a double mastectomy, reconstruction surgeries, and radiation, as well as chemotherapy that caused permanent nerve damage in her legs;
  • Rose Keppler was a teacher at Hinsdale South from 1978 until 2009, and for much of that time also served as the director of the school's special services. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013, undergoing a lumpectomy and radiation; and,
  • Carol Hanley taught at Hinsdale South from 1980 until 2002. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in August. Carol underwent surgery to remove a cancerous tumor and lymph nodes. She will start radiation treatment when she has healed from the surgery.

In August 2018, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry released its report, "Evaluation of Potential Health Impacts for Ethylene Oxide Emissions," documenting the public health impacts of Sterigenics' emissions on Willowbrook and revealing the area's staggering and disproportionate risks of cancer. In February 2019, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency ordered Sterigenics' Willowbrook facility to discontinue EtO use. Although Sterigenics attempted to convince the public it could reduce EtO emissions, the company decided in September to permanently close the facility.

"Too many people have suffered from Sterigenics irresponsible use of EtO. Merely shuttering the Willowbrook facility is not enough," urges Collins. "The company needs to accept liability for the harm it caused and help the families devastated by cancer return to some semblance of normal lives."

Media coverage of the lawsuit:

Kendall County Motorcycle Crash Settlement

The Firm settled a contested motorcycle crash case pending in Kendall County for over $200,000. Our client suffered a fractured leg which required surgery. The lawsuit was settled for over double the defendant's initial settlement offer.

Business Litigation Results

The Firm won a motion for complete dismissal with prejudice in favor of our client involving real property of more than Sixty Million Dollars. The lawsuit was filed purporting to state claims on behalf of several international organizations claiming rights in the property and to stay a sale. The motion was granted dismissing all claims of the national and international plaintiffs.

The Firm won summary judgment on behalf of our out-of-state private lender on a 12 unit mixed-used building in Chicago. Our client was (falsely) accused of violating commercial lending laws, however, after contentious litigation and appeal, the court has entered final judgment on our motion in favor of the Firm's lending client on all issues.

The Firm won summary judgment in favor of our local bank client on a large-scale condominium conversion project. The Firm was able to secure the entire collateral first in receivership and then recover 100% of all bank loans plus all attorney fees for the Bank.

Shawn Collins' Op-Ed appeared in the Peoria Journal Star and The Southern Illinoisan

In the Op-Ed, Shawn talks about how the Illinois EPA's budget has been so slashed that the state has effectively left the citizens on their own to fight for clean air and water. The links to the Op-Ed are here:

Cook County Personal Injury Jury Verdict

A Cook County jury returned a six-figure verdict for our client who slipped and fell on an icy sidewalk at a shopping center plaza, breaking his ankle and requiring surgical intervention. The verdict amount was six times the original offer by the Defendant.

Business Litigation Results

The Firm successfully resolved a real estate litigation matter in the high six-figures following summary judgment filings. The lump-sum cash payment to our client was made following highly contentious litigation over the enforceability of the lease documents.

In extremely adverse shareholder litigation taking place in the United States and in Asia, the Firm was successful in litigating the rights of our client, a minority shareholder in the companies. The resulting settlement agreement following substantial litigation resulted in the Firm's client receiving his seven-figure buyout.

The Firm documented new commercial real estate development loans of $10,000,000 and $3,000,000, recognizing further economic growth to our local economy.

Welcome New Attorney Len Hudson

We are delighted to welcome Len Hudson to the Firm. Before joining us, Len practiced for nearly a decade at the Chicago office of a large international law firm, where he focused on complex commercial disputes and regulatory litigation, representing both plaintiffs and defendants in courtrooms and boardrooms across the country. Len joins us after completing a career sabbatical during which he voyaged on a sailboat in the Caribbean with his wife and three young daughters. Len will focus on our "high stakes" litigation practice.

Business Litigation Results

The Firm obtained a very successful result on behalf of our client, a well-known business with locations throughout Illinois and Indiana, in a shareholder dispute. The plaintiff sued our client and demanded more than $2.5 Million just before arbitration based upon claims of ownership in the company and its intellectual property. The Plaintiff also claimed he was owed money for wrongful termination. The result of the arbitration was a complete defense verdict in favor of the Firm's client and an award of $0.

The Firm continues to work with our lending clients and national businesses, helping them in their acquisition and financing needs. This past month the Firm's Jinah Hong documented more than $20,000,000 in loans for our clients, including for a national chain of fitness locations, a new suburban industrial center, and the expansion of a chain of rental properties in Chicago.

The Firm is pleased to have successfully completed all project documents for the new $5,000,000 buildout of a what has been a widely reported cloud-based kitchen concept, which is being made famous by its new owner, the former CEO of Uber. The Firm's Jinah Hong represented the General Contractor for the entire project and documented all the construction documents.

Personal Injury Settlements

The Firm settled a case on behalf of a client who suffered a traumatic brain injury and broken leg when she was struck by multiple vehicles while crossing the street. The Firm was able to settle the case for the total available insurance of $200,000.00 pre-suit.

Welcome New Attorney Timothy Collins

We are happy to welcome Tim Collins to the Firm. Prior to joining the Firm, Tim worked for a mid-size insurance defense firm in Chicago, Illinois focusing his practice on title insurance defense, commercial litigation, and real estate law. Tim has extensive experience representing financial institutions and individuals in complex matters, including mechanic's lien foreclosures, quiet title proceedings, breach of contract claims and eviction proceedings. Tim's background also includes representing developers, investors and individuals in residential and commercial property transactions. Tim attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where he earned an undergraduate degree in History. He graduated from The John Marshal Law School in Chicago with a Juris Doctorate in 2013.

Opinion | Shawn Collins: It's on us to fight for safe environment

Over the last 10 years, the budget of Illinois' Environmental Protection Agency has been so deliberately slashed by both political parties that the state has effectively announced to its citizens who hope to breathe clean air and drink clean water, "You're on your own."

The severe cuts mean the state is effectively out of the business of making polluters obey the law. Those few remaining staffers at our shriveled EPA can't hope to even learn about violations, let alone punish them, because the agency has been stripped of the money and staff necessary to do inspections and enforcement. Consequently, as the Chicago Tribune has reported, Illinois ranks among the 10 most polluted states in the nation, and state residents face some of the nation's highest risks for serious illnesses linked to industrial chemicals.

Though the state is a haven for environmental lawbreakers, precious few of them are ever referred to the Attorney General's office for prosecution. That means our so-called "tough" anti-pollution laws scarcely matter - because nobody is enforcing them.

That the poor, and especially poor children, face the greatest risk from toxic exposure should surprise no one. They are routinely mistreated because they are so defenseless. They live in Chicago's lead-infected Pilsen neighborhood, its manganese-contaminated Southeast Side, and in the shadows of rural hog and cattle farms, where our impotent EPA can't prevent repeated manure spills into waterways.

This is what happens when a government abandons its people, and trusts the safety of its citizens to profit-driven industries who rely on the slowly creeping pace of toxin-based diseases like cancer to obscure their culpability.

The wickedness of this strategy is in the very DNA of Trump's federal EPA, which is led by polluters who rig science to make chemicals believed to be very dangerous just three years ago seem far less so today. Also, in a devastating work of cynicism, Trump's EPA shifts to state agencies the job of policing the air and water, but then strips away the federal funding states need to do that job, guaranteeing that it doesn't get done at all.

At the state level, as environmental dangers have grown exponentially, Illinois has cut its EPA inspection and enforcement workforce by almost 50%, treating the budget once devoted to protecting citizens' health like a piggy bank to be raided whenever a pork barrel project needs extra cash.

Though tempting, hopelessness is not the proper response to this. We first must recognize that government no longer has the money or will to protect us. So we must protect ourselves. How? By shaming and suing polluters until they clean up the environment, and by threatening legislators with forced retirement unless they stop serving their patron-polluters, and start working for citizens.

The shutdown of the Sterigenics plant in Willowbrook proves that this strategy works. When families there learned that the company had been spewing a human carcinogen into their backyards, they formed a citizen brigade that trained a white-hot spotlight on the company's violations and the state EPA's failings.

The organizing principle of the "Stop Sterigenics" movement was a relentless lack of faith in government as the people's protector. By sheer force of will and energy, they forced the politicians who had previously been coddling Sterigenics to shut the plant down.

Illinois citizens, are you prepared to lead your own fight for your families' right to a safe environment? Because there's no longer a government agency willing or able to do it for you.

Million Dollar Personal Injury Settlement

Our client suffered catastrophic leg injuries as a result of a drunk driving roll-over crash of a recreational vehicle, a UTV, while on a fishing trip in Wisconsin. The client underwent four surgeries and had permanent scarring, pain and numbness. The Firm was hired as co-trial counsel. After being hired, we were able to defeat the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. The case settled shortly after a contested mediation for a million dollars.

Environmental Lawsuits Filed Against Sterigenics

The Firm has filed 12 lawsuits against Sterigenics alleging that our clients contracted cancer after being exposed for years to Sterigenics' ethylene oxide emissions. Ethylene oxide, classified by the EPA as "carcinogenic to humans", is a chemical with mutagenic properties that has been linked in studies to multiple cancers and an increased risk of miscarriages. The lawsuits, filed in the Circuit Court of Cook County, were 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.

The lawsuits allege that Sterigenics knowingly emitted cancer-causing ethylene oxide starting in 1985 and continuing through 2019. And as a result, our clients, who lived or worked near Sterigenics for years, were exposed to a carcinogen that-- according to a government report--raised their cancer risk many times above the national average. To see recent media coverage featuring two of our clients, Yasmeen Harrison and Jeanne Hochhalter, click on the links below:

Commercial Litigation Jury Trial Verdict

On July 12, 2019, a DuPage County, Illinois jury returned a verdict in our client's favor in a breach of contract claim that also sought to pierce the corporate veil under and alter ego theory. The Plaintiff requested approximately $2.75 million. Our client, an Indiana-based healthcare company and its alleged alter ego, stuck to their guns before a 12 person jury. After a week of testimony, the jury found in our client's favor. The jury also rejected third party claims for fraud and aiding and abetting the breach of a fiduciary duty.

Personal Injury Settlements

The Firm has recovered a confidential settlement for a client who sustained injuries as a result of negligence at a residential treatment facility. The case was settled prior to filing suit.

Personal Injury Settlements

The Firm has recovered approximately $300,000 for personal injury clients during the month of June. Cases include an elderly woman struck as a pedestrian and two auto accident cases where our clients were involved in crashes on Interstate 88.

Business Litigation Results

The Firm won an appeal on behalf of a national auditing company. The appellate court upheld the significant summary judgment ruling entered in DuPage County. In affirming the order, the Second District held that our position as to the hotly contested municipal contract were correct, and our client was entitled to the relief sought.

The Firm was successful in obtaining a dismissal of a claim against our client, an international publishing company. After previously winning on a similar motion, this time the dismissal was "with prejudice".

The Firm was successful in obtaining a very favorable result in defending class action litigation in Cook County. The case, which involved multiple jurisdictions and numerous related lawsuits was concluded this past month on terms very favorable to our client.

The firm completed $51 Million in M&A deals including national and franchise sales.

The Firm obtained a dismissal with prejudice on behalf of a client wrongfully sued in Illinois by a well-known national motivational speaker. The circuit court agreed with our motions that our clients were not subject to Illinois jurisdiction, resulting in a dismissal of the claims against them.

Welcome New Law Clerk, Katy Ebbesen

We are excited to welcome Katy Ebbesen to the firm as our new law clerk. Katy is currently in her 3rd and final year at Northern Illinois University College of Law where she is at the top of her class. She will be working with our Commercial Litigation and Business Law Department. Katy comes to us with extensive paralegal experience and we believe she will be a big asset to the firm.

Environmental Contamination Case Against Ford

The Firm continues to pursue Ford on behalf a group of Michigan residents whose neighborhood has been contaminated by groundwater contamination from a nearby Ford manufacturing plant. The case is scheduled for trial in September. Recent media coverage of the case can be found in the following links.

Personal Injury Settlement

The Firm has recovered $150,000 for a client hit by a semi-truck, causing a fracture of her right foot and soft tissue injuries to her shoulder. The claim was settled pre-suit.

Personal Injury Settlements

Within the past month, the Firm has recovered $500,000.00 for its personal injury clients. The cases include a motorcyclist struck by a young driver, a woman who was injured at a local car dealership, and an intersection collision where a husband and wife were both injured.

Super Lawyers 2019

The Collins Law Firm is pleased to announce that Super Lawyers has once again named four attorneys at the firm to the Super Lawyers list. Attorneys Shawn Collins, Edward Manzke, and John Sopuch have been named as 2019 Super Lawyers, and attorney John Risvold has been named as 2019 Rising Stars. This honor is only granted to the top five percent of lawyers in the state based on performance and peer recognition. Attorneys are selected from over 70 practice areas after a rigorous selection process conducted through peer nomination, independent investigation and evaluation. We would like to congratulate these attorneys for being recognized as Illinois Super Lawyers in 2019.

John Risvold attends Gerry Spence's Trial Lawyers College Jury Selection Seminar

This past weekend in Chicago, John Risvold attended the Trial Lawyer's College regional Voir Dire Seminar. Over the course of three days, John trained with trial lawyers from around the country and was led by lawyers who have tried hundreds of cases before juries. The seminar was put on by lawyers trained by famed trial lawyer Gerry Spence and the Gerry Spence Trial Lawyers College. Gerry Spence's Methods of Voir Dire introduce students to a method of jury selection in which they learn how to identify the danger points in their cases, to reframe them into points of power, and how to approach potential jurors as an inclusive, rather than exclusive, process. "This seminar changed the way I look at cases, and how I handle jury selection. The skills I learned at the TLC seminar will improve every aspect of my cases and will help my clients tremendously," Risvold said of the program.

Three Million Dollar Trial Verdict

The Firm obtained a $3,000,000.00 jury verdict after a seven day trial in the Northern District of Illinois. More than 15 fact and expert witnesses testified, and the jury deliberated just three hours before returning a verdict in favor of the Firm's client. The case involved litigation in multiple venues before the Firm was able to secure this victory for its client.

Personal Injury Settlements

Within the past month, the Firm has recovered $500,000.00 for its personal injury clients. The cases include a slip and fall, a bicyclist struck by a car, and a minor who sustained a fractured arm at an indoor play center for children.

John Risvold named to Chicago Bar Association Young Lawyers Section Executive Board

John Risvold was selected to serve on the Chicago Bar Association Young Lawyers Section Executive Board for 2019-2020. John will serve as the Young Lawyers' Section Project Officer, overseeing the bar association's special projects and events. He is one of only 10 lawyers selected to serve on the executive council.

Neighbors upset as proposed annexation marks 'first step' toward expanding Zion landfill

The Collins Law Firm's Zion Landfill case made the news recently with an article in the Lake County News Sun. Advanced Disposal, which owns and operates the Zion Landfill, has applied to annex another 110 acres to expand the landfill. Neighbors, who are negatively affected by the stench, the dirt and the garbage coming into their neighborhood from the landfill, are opposing any expansion plans. They are currently embroiled in a lawsuit against Advanced Disposal over the impact that the existing landfill has had on their quality of life. The Collins Law Firm is representing these families against the garbage company which is aware of the negative impact their landfill has had on the community but is pushing to expand anyway. In the article, attorney John Risvold stresses how the city of Zion has a moral obligation to protect their residents from Advance Disposal's reckless behavior and should require the company to compensate nearby property owners for the damage the landfill is inflicting on them. To read the full article, click on the link below.

Chicago Tribune:

Client Reviews
Shawn Collins is a very talented lawyer, as are all the attorneys on his team. I've known and worked with Shawn for more that 30 years. Not only is he a top notch technical litigator but his communication skills are second to none. If anyone I know is ever in need of an attorney, Shawn is my very first recommendation. He gives very solid advice that goes beyond the law. He is someone you can trust to tell you the truth so you are not lead astray in the complex legal world. You really can't find a better advocate. E.M.
We were incredibly satisfied with our experience with The Collins Law Firm. We worked closely with Ed Manzke and found that he had a personal touch and truly got to know us in addition to being knowledgeable and effective in his field. The caring and individual attitude helped us tremendously throughout the entire process and we always felt like our case was in safe hands. We would highly recommend The Collins Law Firm for both its stellar work and dedicated employees. M.A.
My father recommended The Collins Law Firm to me after watching Shawn Collins and Ed Manzke at trial representing Lisle residents against Lockformer. For years, he told us courtroom tales about Shawn and Ed, citing their incredible skill as trial lawyers and how they put the huge Lockformer legal team to shame. So when my son was the victim of a wrongful death, they were my first and only choice. I can't say enough to truly express how grateful I am to The Collin's Law Firm for all that they did for me and my family. This amazing team advocated for me in my darkest moments, surpassing my expectations in every way. I will be forever grateful to Shawn and Ed. K.D.
I have worked with Rob, Shawn and The Collins Law Firm team in connection with both complex business transactions and litigation over the past several years. Shawn is far and away the best business litigation attorney I have worked with. Rob has been our lead attorney on M&A and corporate restructures, and he has delivered each time, and on time. I would highly recommend Rob to get the deal done! W.D.
Rob has been our out-side General Counsel for ten years. As a business with a global presence, it is important that we have the very best legal representation. Rob and the team have guided us through litigation battles, negotiating and drafting our important business contracts, and advising us in our business strategies. He has a great team of lawyers working with him. M.F.