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Willowbrook plant leads to nearly 75 lawsuits

Injuries may be caused in the manufacture of products intended to protect Illinoisans. Almost 75 personal injury lawsuits were filed against Sterigenics over its closed ethylene oxide sterilization (EtO) plant in Willowbrook, Illinois. Plaintiffs claimed exposure to EtO from the plant, used to sterilize medical devices, caused them or their family members to suffer serious or terminal illnesses over 30 years.

Two dozen of these lawsuits were filed earlier this month. Plaintiffs in this state charge that EtO exposure was linked to medical conditions, such as leukemia, lymphoma, breast cancer and miscarriages. Each lawsuit will be tried individually even though pre-trial and discovery matters were consolidated.

EtO was classified as a carcinogen by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and it intends to update its EtO regulations by March 2020. Illinois officials closed the Willowbrook facility in February and Sterigenics decided not to reopen it.

EtO is used to sterilize almost half off all devices that need sterilization in this country or over 20 billion medical devices a year, according to the Food and Drug Administration. EtO has superior penetration properties and is less likely to damage products. Some industry experts claim that even if alternatives were found, it would take 10 years for medical technical companies to complete processes that meet FDA standards for all the devices that are currently sterilized by EtO.

Closure of the Illinois plant caused hospitals to search for other sources of critical devices. There have been no major shortages, but serious warnings were issued by that industry and the FDA about that possibility.

Sterigenics is also facing legal problems in Atlanta. A judge heard arguments concerning a consent order allowing it to improve emissions controls for that product at its facility. Plaintiffs argued that the EPA notified Georgia environmental officials of elevated EtO levels near the Atlanta plant but neither government agency informed the public.

The company said that the legal claims are meritless. It said that it exceeded applicable regulations and laws governing emissions. Victims of negligence may be entitled to compensation but must gather evidence and undergo complex litigation. An attorney can help them protect their rights.

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