Sterigenics Concealed Cancer Risks for Months After Government Reports

A federal agency’s results from a May air quality investigation that shows the risk of cancer in Willowbrook and surrounding communities is higher than the EPA initially reported to the facility, Sterigenics, in December. Ethylene oxide (EtO) emissions from Sterigenics International, Inc., a plant that specializes in the sterilization of medical equipment, pharmaceuticals and foods/spices, have been given off from the facility since 1984. The federal agency behind the most recent investigation is the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), a division of the Department of Health and Human Services.

According to the EPA, the cancers associated with excess EtO exposure include:

  • Breast cancer
  • Lymphoid cancers (lymphoma, myeloma, and leukemia)
  • Cancers of the brain, lungs, connective tissue, and uterus

Federal Agency Says Cancer Risk is 6 Cases Per 1,000 Residents
The EPA initially reported ethylene oxide levels with a cancer risk of 1,000 in a million people to Sterigenics in December 2017. In his report, Ed Nam, an EPA official, told Sterigenics that the level exceeds “our typical upper limit of cancer risk acceptability.” Any result higher than 100 in 1 million is of concern to federal agencies. The results of this report were not made to the public until August 2018, eight months after the company was first made aware that the facility was potentially responsible for increased rates of cancer in the area.

However, the results were significantly higher when ATSDR sampled the air eight months after the EPA released its air quality reports to Sterigenics. Over a 2 day period in May, researchers from ATSDR tested air samples from the Willowbrook facility and the “surrounding community” to determine the levels of EtO released from the building’s air vents. The surrounding communities were not named, but figure 4 included in ATSDR’s report shows an aerial view of the sampling sites. ATSDR researchers revealed that the level of EtO emissions given off from Sterigenics amounted to a cancer risk of 6,400 per million, or 6 cases of cancer for every 1,000 residents.

Also noteworthy is ATSDR’s discovery of a marked decline in EtO emissions after 1998,  meaning the risk of EtO-associated cancers prior to then was likely higher than now. It is unknown if they became aware of high EtO admissions at that time and took steps to reduce them or if it was due to other factors. Given the now known risk of cancer to the community, it is worth pressing Sterigenics to reveal if there was air quality information given to the company that caused them to reduce their EtO admissions in 1998.

In the conclusion of their report, ATSDR recommended Sterigenics take steps to protect the community. These recommendations include taking “immediate action to reduce EtO emissions,” as well as the have the Illinois Department of Public Health assess cancer risks in Willowbrook and neighboring communities. Sterigenics is still open and operating and it is believed they have yet to undertake either recommendation.


Fighting Sterigenics Is a Personal Mission for Levin & Perconti
The news of Sterigenics releasing dangerous levels of cancer causing ethylene oxide into the community is a personal mission for us. Our founding partner, John Perconti, is a lifelong resident of one of the surrounding communities found to have an elevated risk of cancer.

If you too live near Sterigenics and believe ethylene oxide may be behind your diagnosis or a loved one’s diagnosis of cancer or other serious health issues, contact the personal injury attorneys of Levin & Perconti now for a FREE consultation. You have nothing to lose: we are not paid unless we recover money for you. Call 312-332-2872 to speak to an attorney now or complete our online case evaluation form and our attorneys will call you back at your convenience.



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