Number of parties suing Sterigenics jumps to 73

  • Lawsuits allege that Sterigenics has caused leukemia, lymphoma, breast cancer, miscarriages and other medical conditions among people living near its Willowbrook plant.

    Lawsuits allege that Sterigenics has caused leukemia, lymphoma, breast cancer, miscarriages and other medical conditions among people living near its Willowbrook plant. File photo courtesy of ABC 7 Chicago

 
By Jerry Nowicki
Capitol News Illinois
jnowicki@capitolnewsillinois.com
Updated 12/12/2019 5:04 PM

SPRINGFIELD -- The number of parties suing medical supply sterilization company Sterigenics on claims that its ethylene oxide gas emissions caused serious health problems grew to 73 this week, according to a law firm representing 18 of the plaintiffs.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, chronic exposure to ethylene oxide gas can cause increased cancer risks, reproductive effects and other major medical problems. Sterigenics used the chemical to sterilize medical supplies at its Chicago-area Willowbrook facility for more than 30 years.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

In September, Sterigenics announced it was closing its Willowbrook facility amid mounting pressure from lawmakers and activists from the area.

Sterigenics said in a news release at the time it could "not reach an agreement to renew the lease on its Quincy Street facility in Willowbrook in the present environment," and blamed an "unstable legislative and regulatory landscape in Illinois" for its decision not to reopen.

The Chicago law firm Romanucci & Blandin announced in a news release Thursday that there are 22 new lawsuits against "Sterigenics and other parties responsible for causing leukemia, lymphoma, breast cancer, miscarriages and other medical conditions."

Antonio Romanucci, a founding partner at the firm, said the "other parties" include Sotera Health LLC, which is Sterigenics' parent company; GTCR LLC, which is a hedge fund with an ownership interest in the company; and a maintenance supervisor and operations manager from the site. The defendants vary by individual suit depending on the dates of exposure and diagnosis, he said.

"The magnitude of this case is evident by the growing number of families that have been devastated over the last three decades by Sterigenics' negligence, and we will not rest until we secure justice for the wrongdoings of this company in our community," Romanucci said in the release.

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He said plaintiffs include people who live in, have lived in or had contact with the surrounding municipalities of Willowbrook, Burr Ridge, Darien and Hinsdale.

"Some have since moved to other parts of Illinois, but at some point from 1984 to 2019 they had contacts with the Willowbrook area (whether it be work, school, or home)," he said in an email.

Romanucci is the court-appointed lead counsel for a legal group that is working together for pre-trial and discovery purposes on behalf of the growing lists of plaintiffs, he said.

There are more than 20 firms representing those 73 plaintiffs, and Romanucci said a judge ordered "any case involving similar allegations against Sterigenics be consolidated" in Cook County Circuit Court.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The suit is not class-action, however, and each case will be tried individually. Romanucci said the consolidation of pre-trial and discovery processes was for efficiency purposes.

"For instance, requesting information about Sterigenics' operations or determining the harmful effects of (ethylene oxide) are both issues that will impact all cases. Therefore, they are brought together under one consolidated case to save time and resources," he said in an email. "Specific issues (i.e. an individual's diagnosis, an individual's treatment, an individual's exposure) will be handled separately."

In its news release and in a legal consent order undertaken with the state and DuPage County in September, Sterigenics never admitted any wrongdoing.

"Sterigenics appreciates that the State of Illinois has clearly acknowledged the company's consistent record of regulatory compliance as well as the safety of the new controls we agreed to implement, and we made every effort to reach a constructive resolution," the company said in the release. "Unfortunately, inaccurate and unfounded claims regarding Sterigenics and the unstable legislative and regulatory landscape in Illinois have created an environment in which it is not prudent to maintain these critical sterilization operations in Willowbrook."

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