Six former teachers at Hinsdale South High School filed a lawsuit against Sterigenics Friday, alleging that their cancers were caused by exposure to ethylene oxide emissions from the company’s Willowbrook plant located less than a mile from the school.
The suit, filed in Cook County Circuit Court, accuses Sterigenics of saturating the area around its plant with the carcinogenic chemical emissions, despite being aware of its adverse health impacts.
The six plaintiffs all worked at Hinsdale South as teachers or counselors, each employed by the school for a period of time ranging from 18 years to more than 30 years. All were diagnosed with either breast cancer or Non-Hodgkin lymphoma between 2007 and now, their attorney said in a statement announcing the suit.
"One of my colleagues sent out a letter about the fact that we had been exposed to the ethylene oxide, and it hit me, and it was like that's what caused my cancer," said plaintiff and former Hindsale South counselor Carol Tufo. "I had never put two and two together until I got that letter."
Nearly 75 lawsuits have been filed against Sterigenics in Illinois, with some claiming the plant's emissions caused leukemia, lymphoma, breast cancer, miscarriages and other diagnoses.
That includes NBC 5 anchor Rob Stafford, who filed a lawsuit against the company in August, alleging he was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder after being exposed to toxic levels of ethylene oxide.
"A cancer-causing chemical was being released out into the community," said Shawn Collins, the attorney representing the former counselors and teachers from Hinsdale Central. "The worst thing this company did was open up its doors in the middle of a residential community."
In response to 32 separate lawsuits filed the week before, Sterigenics said at the time that the company "has consistently complied with applicable regulations," noting that Sterigenics believes the claims lack merit and intends to "vigorously defend against" them.
The company announced in September that it would not reopen its Willowbrook facility, months after the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency shut it down - a decision celebrated by activists and area residents pushing to keep the plant closed.
"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," the company said in a statement at the time.