Sterigenics will pay $408 million to settle more than 870 lawsuits alleging that its Willowbrook facility exposed residents to ethylene oxide gas and caused illnesses, the company announced Monday.
Under the terms of the agreement, the company will pay to settle the claims “subject to substantially all of the plaintiffs providing opt-in consents to their individual settlement allocations and dismissing their claims with prejudice,” Sotera Health, the parent company of Sterigenics, said in a statement.
The settlements are “not to be construed as an admission of any liability or that emissions from the Willowbrook facilities ever posed any safety hazard to the surrounding communities,” the statement said. “Sterigenics maintains that its Willowbrook operations did not pose a safety risk to the community in which it operated.”
The company said it was in its best interest to settle the lawsuits because significant time and cost would have been required to contest all of the cases, in addition to having to fight against “years of biased media coverage in the Chicago area.” The completion of the settlement agreements is expected to take 90 to 120 days.
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The agreement will allow the company to “focus its full attention on operating the business, serving our customers and delivering on our mission,” the statement said.
The first cases against Sterigenics and other companies tied to the Willowbrook plant were filed in 2018, after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency published research showing people living nearby developed cancer at rates nine times the national average.
In September, a Cook County jury awarded $363 million to 70-year-old Sue Kamuda, who alleged the company exposed her to ethylene oxide gas and led to her cancer diagnosis. Jurors found that ethylene oxide emissions from the Willowbrook Sterigenics facility near the home where Kamuda lived for 20 years caused her cancer.
Sterigenics pushed back against the verdict at the time, saying it does not reflect the evidence presented in court.
The Willowbrook plant had been releasing ethylene oxide from 1985 until a temporary shutdown was ordered by state authorities in 2019. Sterigenics has since permanently closed the plant.