A judge in Cook County, Illinois ruled Oct. 21 that hundreds of lawsuits accusing medical sterilization company Sterigenics of releasing a carcinogen into the environment will be tried in groups of 10.
The decision comes a month after a Cook County jury awarded plaintiff Sue Kamuda $363 million in damages, finding Sterigenics liable for exposing her to the chemical ethylene oxide (EtO), which caused her cancer. Kamuda’s award is the largest in Illinois history for an individual plaintiff, according to CBS News Chicago.
EtO is the most frequently used chemical for medical device sterilization, primarily for its ability to effectively sterilize without damaging medical devices. According to QMed, high levels of EtO for many years have been linked to an increased risk of certain types of cancers, which is why the EPA regulates sites that emit the chemical. EtO has been found in breast tissue in women with breast cancer and has been shown to contribute to three types of white blood cell cancers:
- Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
- Lymphocytic leukemia
Kamuda, a breast cancer survivor, and 700 other plaintiffs sued Sterigenics, accusing the company of knowingly emitting EtO as a poisonous gas from its now-defunct facility in Willowbrook, IL, a suburb of Chicago. . Kamuda has lived near the Sterigenics facility for three decades and his son was recently diagnosed with lymphoma. His case was Sterigenics’ first lawsuit to go to trial. The Cook County judge’s order will consolidate the remaining lawsuits into groups of 10 to get those cases to trial more quickly.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Sterigenics was a commercial sterilizer that used ethylene oxide (EtO) to sterilize medical equipment and other products. The company began operations in the Chicago area in 1984 and was forced out of business by the Illinois EPA in 2019.
In 2018, EPA monitoring indicated that there was a high concentration of EtO in the air adjacent to the facility. Former Sterigenics factory workers have turned whistleblowers and claimed the company was emitting more toxic chemicals into the air than reported to the EPA.
Sterigenics is a subunit of Sotera Health, which plans to appeal the verdict for Kamuda.