Jury Awards $363 Million Verdict in Sterigenics Ethylene Oxide Lawsuit

Jury Awards $363 Million Verdict in Sterigenics Ethylene Oxide Lawsuit

A jury in an Illinois state court recently awarded $363 million to a woman injured by ethylene oxide. The jury determined the groundbreaking verdict on September 19, 2022, after a five-week trial. This trial’s impressive conclusion is a major development in ethylene oxide lawsuits and may be a harbinger of out-of-court settlements for pending cases. Ethylene oxide is a gas that is used primarily to sterilize medical equipment and in the production of other industrial chemicals. Agencies have classified the chemical as a known human carcinogen, and individuals have filed lawsuits nationwide regarding ethylene oxide’s destructive effects on the human body. 

Ethylene Oxide Attributed to Cancer Development 

Manufacturing plants utilize ethylene oxide, a colorless and sweet-smelling gas derived from petroleum or natural gas, for several purposes. Most notably, manufacturers rely on ethylene oxide to sterilize over 50% of all medical devices. However, ethylene oxide is also a byproduct released during the production of ethylene glycol (antifreeze), textiles, detergents, polyurethane foam, solvents, medicine, and adhesives. Therefore, manufacturing plants developing these products emit ethylene oxide, which can drift into neighboring communities. 

In 2016, the EPA labeled ethylene oxide as a known human carcinogen, traveling the country to educate those nearby plants and workers about its dangers. The agency is also working on revising aspects of the Clean Air Act to reduce ethylene oxide emissions. Yet, some critics state the agency has not done enough to regulate the toxin effectively. Decades of research point to the cancerous outcome of ethylene oxide exposure, but communities across the country continue to struggle with ethylene oxide emissions contaminating their lives. Manufacturers now face several lawsuits because workers and residents of nearby neighborhoods claim chronic long-term exposure to ethylene oxide led them to develop various cancers, including but not limited to: 

  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL)
  • Myeloma
  • Lymphocytic leukemia
  • Breast cancer 

Jury Awards $363 Million in Ethylene Oxide Lawsuit Against Sterigenics 

70-year-old Sue Kamuda secured a notable victory in her lawsuit against commercial sterilizer company, Sterigenics in September. The Chicago resident developed breast cancer in 2007, though she had no predisposition to it. Kamuda, who has lived near the Sterigenics’ facility in Willowbrook, Illinois, argued that three decades of exposure to the company’s ethylene oxide emissions resulted in her breast cancer. Attorneys presented emails and documents that revealed that Sterigenics knew the dangers of ethylene oxide emissions but neglected to implement pollution-control solutions sooner. 

Sterigenics eventually closed the Willowbrook plant in 2019 after the state of Illinois and the Environmental Protection Agency cited it for violating emission control regulations. This permanent closure came too late for many residents, as there are now over 700 lawsuits pending against Sterigenics and other companies emitting ethylene oxide. The court awarded Kamuda $325 million in punitive damages and $38 million in compensatory damages. Of the total sum, Sterigenics will pay $220 million, parent company Sotera Health will pay $100 million, and Griffith Foods, which built the plant, will pay $5 million.

Sterigenics claims that Kamuda’s attorneys did not provide evidence that proved ethylene oxide emissions caused her breast cancer. Furthermore, the company mentioned it will try to appeal the verdict. Meanwhile, Kamuda’s son, who also has cancer, has a lawsuit pending against Sterigenics. The next trial against the company is scheduled for October.