32 New Lawsuits Filed Against Sterigenics

Cancer patients shared their stories Tuesday about living near Sterigenics in Willowbrook

Nearly three dozen people have sued the operator of a suburban Chicago medical equipment cleaning plant they claim emits fumes that have adversely affected their health, lawyers for the plaintiffs announced Tuesday.

The 32 lawsuits filed against Sterigenics LLC this week in Cook County seek damages from the company, which operates a plant in Willowbrook.

"Nobody should have to go through anything like this," said Burr Ridge native Jeanne Hochhalter.

Cancer patients shared their stories Tuesday about living near Sterigenics in Willowbrook. 

"After I found my cancer, my husband was diagnosed with cancer and his has spread," said Jana Conev, a nearby resident whose been living in the area since 1987.

Residents said they are worried the plant's emissions are causing cancer.

A Sterigenics spokesman said the company "has consistently complied with applicable regulations." The spokesman added the claims against Sterigenics lack merit and "we intend to vigorously defend against them."

In February, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency shut down the Willowbrook plant after air quality monitoring recorded spikes of ethylene oxide in surrounding neighborhoods. 

Attorney General Kwame Raoul and DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin in July reached an agreement with Sterigenics that will allow the plant to reopen after additional emission capture and control equipment is installed. 

Sterigenics also agreed to fund $300,000 in community projects designed in coordination with the state to benefit the environment and the local community.

Colleen Haller opened up about her husband dying of stomach cancer.

“I have a 4-year-old son who misses his dad who thinks his dad is still in the hospital,” she said.

Another woman, Lisa Flanagan, said she attended Hinsdale South High School and has numerous friends who have been diagnosed with cancer.

The Illinois EPA shut down Sterigenics in February after air tests found higher than allowed levels of cancer causing ethylene oxide, a colorless and flammable gas.

“I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer which means it’s environmental, not hormonal,” said another Willowbrook resident, Trish Watt.

Watt said she's been living in the area for the past 40 years.

"It’s been hell. I've been through chemo, I’ve had my body mutilated. It’s impacted every part of my life and they knew," said Hochhalter. "They’ve known for 34 years and willfully pumped this out into our communities.”

Sterigenics uses ethylene oxide at its Willowbrook plant to sterilize medical equipment.

Teresa Fornek, a nurse who lives near the plant, said, "ethylene oxide is not necessary to sterilize medical products, European countries have banned it.”

Fornek has lived near Sterigenics for 26 years and developed leukemia with no family history.

"I have a 7-year-old daughter and 14-month-old son," she said. "Every day I pray for my own health and wondering if I’m going to live to their adult life.”

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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