6 suburban teachers claim emissions from Sterigenics plant led to cancer: lawsuit

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WILLOWBROOK, Ill. — Six former suburban teachers are suing Sterigenics because they claim they were exposed to toxic emissions from the company’s Willowbrook plant which they said led to cancer.

Six teachers who formally taught at Hinsdale South High School all have either breast cancer or non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. They are all suing Sterigenics — a company that had shut down earlier this year. The plant is less than a mile from the school.

The teachers worked at the school mostly in the 80’s and 90’s and had no family history of cancer and believe their proximity to the plant is what led to their cancer diagnosis.

“I've been doing these cases for 20 years and never seen a station with a facility using a chemical this dangerous was known to be being released for years out into a residential community,” Shaun Collins. Collins Law Firm said.

Sterigenics opened its Willowbrook facility in 1984, releasing ethylene oxide emissions from its medical instrument sterilization chambers into the air. This past spring, the EPA concluded that the emissions were responsible for long term cancer risks up to 10 times higher than what the organization considers acceptable.

“In our building there's probably 35 to 40 of my fellow teachers who have cancer,” Jeannie Conrad-Debroeck, one of the former teachers, said. “We've lost seven to 10 of my friends who were teachers to breast and brain cancer.”

The lawsuit alleges the company knew about the health dangers, but railed to reduce emissions or warn the community about the risks.

“I'm pretty mad about it,” Carol Tufo, former guidance counselor, said. “I can't imagine anyone or any company putting poison in the air and having money be more important than people.”

Sterigenics sent the following statement in response to the lawsuit:

“Sterigenics empathizes with anyone battling cancer.  Sterigenics is confident that it is not responsible for causing the illness.  We operate safely to sterilize vital medical products and have consistently complied with and outperformed applicable regulations. We intend to vigorously defend against unfounded and meritless claims.”

In February, the Illinois EPA a ordered Sterigenics to stop using the chemical ethylene oxide and in September, the company announced it would permanently close its Willowbrook facility.

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