Written By : Terry Turner
Edited By : Kim Borwick
This page features 13 Cited Research Articles
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Why Are Lawsuits Being Filed?

Hundreds of people have filed individual lawsuits and class actions claiming that chemical facilities exposed them to ethylene oxide for years and led them to develop cancer. Manufacturers hit with cancer lawsuits refute the claims.

The United States is one of the world’s largest producers of ethylene oxide and chemicals made from it. More than 90 facilities across the country work with the chemical, according to the American Chemistry Council.

Ethylene oxide is used to make other chemicals utilized in a variety of consumer and industrial goods, including fabric, detergents, medicines and adhesives. It’s even used to sterilize medical devices and spices and to kill microorganisms in grains.

 

Fact
The upper level of acceptable cancer risk for polluted air is 1 in 100 in one million, or one in 10,000.

Sterigenics, one company facing lawsuits in Georgia, “empathizes with anyone battling cancer, but our Atlanta facility’s safe operations are not responsible for causing the illnesses alleged in these lawsuits. We intend to vigorously defend against the plaintiffs’ unfounded claims,” a spokesperson told Georgia Health News in a September 2020 statement.

Studies have shown that chronic exposure to ethylene oxide increases the risk of cancer.

Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA has set emission standards for 187 different toxic air pollutants, including ethylene oxide. Corporations are required to adhere to emission limits.

The EPA has set the upper level of acceptable cancer risk for polluted air at 1 in 100 in one million, or one in 10,000. More than 100 areas in the United States around numerous industrial plants have cancer risk scores above acceptable limits, according to ethylene oxide lawsuits.

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Cancer Risk

Ethylene oxide damages the DNA and cells of organisms. If enough damage occurs, cancer can form. The majority of people aren’t exposed to enough of the chemical to cause serious problems, but people who work with, work near or live near an emissions source may develop cancer.

The toxic gas can linger in the atmosphere for as long as 149 days in the winter and 69 days in the summer, according to the EPA.

Studies have shown that breathing in elevated levels of ethylene oxide over the course of several years increases the risk of blood disorders, blood cancers and breast cancer in humans, according to the EPA. Animals exposed to the chemical developed tumors in the brain, lungs, uterus, connective tissue and mammary glands.

People who filed lawsuits allege many different types of cancer.

Cancers linked to ethylene oxide include:
  • Blood disorders
  • Brain tumors
  • Kidney cancer
  • Kidney damage
  • Lung cancer
  • Lymphocytic leukemia
  • Myeloma
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Stomach cancer
  • Testicular damage
  • Uterine cancer

Non-Cancer Side Effects

Short-term (acute) exposure to large amounts of the chemical can cause nervous system depression, skin and eye irritation and other ethylene oxide side effects. Chronic (long-term exposure) can cause damage to the brain and nervous system and other parts of the body.

Side effects of ethylene oxide exposure include:
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Drowsiness
  • Exhaustion
  • Eye burns
  • Frostbite
  • Headache
  • Irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, skin and lungs
  • Memory loss
  • Miscarriages
  • Nausea
  • Numbness
  • Reproductive effects
  • Skin burns
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness

Manufacturers in Lawsuits

Lawyers are investigating cancers and injuries linked to chronic ethylene oxide exposure around factories and plants across the country.

According to lawsuits, companies knew about the dangers of the chemical, but continued to emit excessive amounts of it into the air for years without warning the public.

If you or a loved one worked in, worked near or lived near any of the following plants and developed cancer, you may be eligible to file a lawsuit for compensation.

Lawyers are investigating cancer claims in and around several plants, including:
  • BASF Plant - Washington, NJ
  • Bayer - S. Charleston, WV
  • Braun Medical Facility - Lehigh, PA B Braun Medical Facility
  • CR Bard - Covington, GA
  • Croda Inc. - New Castle, DE Croda Inc
  • Dow Chemical - Plaquemines, LA
  • Edwards Lifesciences - Anasco, PR
  • INEOS Oxide, Axiall LLC - Plaquemines, LA
  • Medline Industries - Waukegan, IL
  • Midwestern Sterilization Jackson, MO
  • Sterigenics - Santa Teresa, NM
  • Sterigenics - Smyrna, GA
  • Sterigenics - Willowbrook, IL
  • Taminco/Eastman - St. Gabriel, LA
  • Union Carbide - Hahnville, LA
  • Union Carbide - Institute, WV Union Carbide
  • Union Carbide - S. Charleston, WV

Who Is Eligible to File a Lawsuit?

Factory workers, farm workers or anyone who worked at a facility that uses or makes ethylene oxide and was diagnosed with one of the cancers below may be eligible to file a lawsuit for potential compensation. 

Cancers that qualify for an ethylene oxide lawsuit include:
  • Breast cancer — non-BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic variety
  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia
  • Lymphoid tumor
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma

People who worked in plants that manufacture or use ethylene oxide, technicians or hospital workers who sterilize medical devices and agricultural workers who fumigate grains are most at risk. But if your place of work or your home is near a factory, you may also be at risk.

For example, in January 2020, six women who worked at Hinsdale South High School about a mile from Sterigenics’ Willowbrook plant in Illinois alleged that ethylene oxide from the plant caused lymphoma and breast cancer, the Chicago Tribune reported. The women worked at the high school for at least 18 years.

Status of Lawsuits

So far, hundreds of lawsuits have been filed against companies whose facilities emitted ethylene oxide. Thousands of people who lived or worked near these facilities for years may be at risk of developing cancer, and lawyers expect many more lawsuits to come.

In September 2022, an Illinois jury awarded $363 million to Susan Kamoda, a woman who claimed she developed breast cancer after she was exposed to ethylene oxide while living near Sterigenics’ facility in Willowbrook, Illinois.  

The plaintiff claimed her family had no history of cancer. In addition, she said the toxic chemical led her son to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Lawyers continue to accept cases from workers who developed cancer after long-term ethylene oxide exposure. 

Please seek the advice of a qualified professional before making decisions about your health or finances.
Last Modified: January 17, 2023

13 Cited Research Articles

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  1. Taylor, N.P. (2022, September 20). Jury decides against Sterigenics in ethylene oxide trial, awarding $363 million to the sole plaintiff. Retrieved from https://www.medtechdive.com/news/jury-rules-against-sterigencis-ethylene-oxide/632212/
  2. Hawkins, S. (2022, September 19). Sterigenics to Pay $363 Million for Cancer Caused by Emissions. Retrieved from https://news.bloomberglaw.com/environment-and-energy/sterigenics-to-pay-363-million-for-cancer-caused-by-emissions
  3. Perlman, M. et al. (2022, September 19). Jury finds liable for Willowbrook woman’s breast cancer, awards $363 million in damages. Retrieved from https://www.cbsnews.com/chicago/news/jury-finds-sterigenics-liable-for-her-breast-cancer-awards-total-of-363-million-in-damages/
  4. Goodman, B. & Miller, A. (2020, September 8). Sterilization companies hit with wave of lawsuits over ethylene oxide. Retrieved from http://www.georgiahealthnews.com/2020/09/sterilization-companies-hit-wave-ethylene-oxide-lawsuits/
  5. Greene, M. (2020, August 21). Hundreds more lawsuits filed over ethylene oxide emissions at Sterigenics plant in Willowbrook. Retrieved from https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/breaking/ct-sterigenics-lawsuits-20200821-mugtioojxvf2rfqoxnbfante2y-story.html
  6. Fornek, K. (2020, January 30). 76 lawsuits have been filed over ethylene oxide emissions at Sterigenics plant in Willowbrook and more may be coming, attorney says. Retrieved form https://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/burr-ridge/ct-dbr-sterigenics-willowbrook-lawsuits-tl-0206-20200130-2xf3dqihjjdfpenrokeami5pea-story.html
  7. American Chemistry Council. (2020). Ethylene Oxide. Retrieved from https://www.chemicalsafetyfacts.org/ethylene-oxide/
  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019, June 21). Ethylene Oxide. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/ethyleneoxide/default.html
  9. American Chemistry Council. (2019). The Economic Benefits of Ethylene Oxide. Retrieved from https://www.americanchemistry.com/EO/Ethylene-Oxide-and-the-Potential-Cost-of-Deselection.pdf
  10. National Cancer Institute. (2018, December 28). Ethylene Oxide. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/substances/ethylene-oxide
  11. Kamuda v. Sterigenics International, Inc. et al. (2018). Jury Trial Demanded. Complaint at Law. Retrieved from https://www.salvilaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Kamuda-Complaint_Sterigenics-Filed-9.26.18.pdf
  12. Environmental Protection Agency. (n.d.). Ethylene Oxide Emissions: Frequent Questions. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/il/ethylene-oxide-emissions-frequent-questions
  13. Environmental Protection Agency. (n.d.). Ethylene Oxide. Retrieved form https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-09/documents/ethylene-oxide.pdf