Medical sterilization company ordered to pay $220M for toxic gas emissions

A jury ordered Sterigenics, a medical sterilization company based in Oak Brook, Ill., to award a woman $220 million for exposing her to ethylene oxide gas, which she argued contributed to her cancer diagnosis, according to a Sept. 19 Chicago Sun-Times report. 

The case, which was filed in 2018 and involved Sterigenics' Willowbrook, Ill., plant, surpassed the damages sought by Willowbrook resident Sue Kamuda's lawyers. The judgment, totaling $363 million, orders Sterigenics to pay $220 million, its parent company to pay $100 million and corporate predecessor Griffith Foods to pay $5 million. Ms. Kamuda was also awarded $38 million in compensatory damages. 

Ms. Kamuda's legal team argued that Sterigenics released the gas at levels thousands of times above what the government considers safe, and that after a decade of exposure to it, she developed breast cancer in 2007, the Sun-Times reported. Sterigenics said it plans to challenge this decision. 

"We will continue to vigorously defend against allegations about our ethylene oxide operations and emissions," the company said in a statement. 

Sterigenics' Willowbrook plant permanently closed in 2019 after 34 years of operations, but the company faces hundreds of lawsuits because of its ethylene oxide gas emissions, according to the Sun-Times

"It was such a relief," Ms. Kamuda told the Sun-Times. "It's been a long four years."

There are 23 other medical sterilization facilities in the U.S. with ethylene oxide emissions higher than the national limit, according to a recent Environmental Protection Agency report.

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