Victims accuse Sterigenics of moving over $1 billion to safeguard money from lawsuits

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WILLOWBROOK — A lawsuit filed Monday accuses medical sterilization company Sterigenics of funneling more than a billion dollars to investors so the funds couldn’t be used to pay legal damages.

Sterigenics announced it was permanently closing its Willowbrook facility in September, but people who lived nearby over the years it operated say the air was polluted with a cancer-causing gas.

Jeanne Hochhalter says she developed breast cancer that is directly related to her long-term exposure to Sterigenics' pollution.

“I’d do everything to try to get my pre-cancer life back; no matter what I do, I can never get there. I’ve had my breasts cut off, I’ve lost a baby,” Hochhalter said. “As they were going to the bank, we were going to the hospitals for treatment."

Hochhalter is one of a number of people behind a lawsuit filed Monday blaming the company for knowingly emitting large amounts of ethylene oxide, a colorless, odorless gas has been linked to cancer.

The latest lawsuit follows the money, alleging that once it was clear Steregenics executives would be sued they, “funneled nearly $1.3 billion in cash... to wealthy venture- capitalist investors, such that the funds could never be used to compensate the victims.”

Colleen Haller watched her husband battle stomach cancer and eventually die over an excruciating 18-moth period.

“It seems that they almost knew that there were going to be lawsuits and they were actually funneling money out before my lawsuit – my husband’s lawsuit was even filed," Haller said. “Now I’m left with the grief moving forward.”

She and other victims now say they’re also left with crushing financial burdens.

“The point of the civil justice system is if you did something wrong, if you injured someone, if you made them grievously ill, if you killed them, you must compensate them," attorney Sean Collins said.

In a written statement, a Sterigenics spokesman said in part that such assertions are false:

“While we empathize with anyone dealing with cancer, we are confident that operations at our Willowbrook facility are not responsible for causing the illnesses alleged in any lawsuit. We look forward to continuing to present our case in court to defend against the plaintiffs’ baseless charges.”

Several lawyers are coordinating their efforts in more than 75 cases, and on Monday detailed an alleged scheme to enrich investors and avoid paying legal damages to victims. Those attorneys say they’re seeking to have their cases go to trial as soon as possible so that no more money can be moved.

“We’re going to find out what Sterigenics knew, when they knew it and what they did once they knew it," attorney Steven Hart said.

Sterigenics called these latest claims in the lawsuit inaccurate and misleading.

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