Toxic air pollution from a local Sterigenics facility may have been poisoning residents in Willowbrook, Illinois for years. Evidence of an airborne cancer-causing chemical used in plant operations is under investigation.
Sterigenics Accused of Toxic Air Pollution
Lisa Madigan, the Illinois Attorney General, recently filed a lawsuit against the Sterigenics plant operating in Willowbrook. The lawsuit alleges Sterigenics has been polluting the air with ethylene oxide (EtO), a known toxic chemical that causes cancer in humans. Sterigenics officials denied the allegation and stated that they are currently operating within permit regulations issued by the EPA.
Sterigenics operates a plant that sterilizes surgical instruments and medical devices used by hospitals, medical facilities, and physicians. They claim that the sterilization process used in the plant is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and meets all safety regulations set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Plant officials state that disruption in their sterilization procedures will post significant public health and safety risks to thousands of medical patients by jeopardizing the sterility of surgical procedures and increasing the possibility of life-threatening infections. Investigations are underway to determine Sterigenics’ toxic air pollution levels compared to safe levels established by the EPA. If investigations show unsafe levels of EtO emissions in Willowbrook, the court may ban Sterigenics from using EtO in plant operations.
Ethylene oxide is used in many U. S. industries including construction, agriculture, and shipbuilding. It’s primarily used as a fumigant for agricultural products and as a sterilization agent for surgical and medical equipment. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), EtO is extremely flammable, highly reactive, and poses significant health hazards. Exposure to high levels of the toxic chemical can cause headaches, nausea and vomiting, shortness of breath, lung damage, and cyanosis. Long-term exposure is linked to reproductive damage, genetic changes, neurotoxicity, and cancer.
Toxic air pollutants are known to cause cancer and various other health problems in humans. The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to regulate toxic air pollutants produced by industrial facilities in two phases – controlling emission levels and protecting public health and safety. According to the EPA, there are 187 known toxic air pollutants that can cause serious health conditions, physical and mental injuries, and death.
Toxic Tort Lawsuits
Individuals exposed to toxic substances often face serious, life-threatening injuries. Over the past twenty years, thousands of people have developed mesothelioma from breathing asbestos fibers into their lungs. Thousands more have developed cancers and respiratory problems from exposure to toxic chemicals used in cleaning products, building materials, industrial supplies, and pesticides like Roundup weedkiller.
Individuals who suffer illness or injury due to exposure to a toxic chemical may file a toxic tort lawsuit through injury or accident lawyers to recover damages for medical expenses, loss of income, and pain and suffering. However, it must be proven that the person’s illness or injury is directly related to exposure of the toxic chemical. A clear diagnosis and medical evidence are required to support a toxic tort claim. In many cases, illness or injury from toxic exposure may take years to surface, so proving a direct link between exposure and illness can be complicated.
Class Action Lawsuits
Unlike toxic tort lawsuits which are filed by individuals, class action lawsuits are filed by groups of people who suffer similar injuries from a common source. In a class action lawsuit, a plaintiff files on behalf of a collective group or class of people who are impacted by the same facts of the case.
The biggest advantage of a class action lawsuit is combining a large number of individual claims into one lawsuit. Class actions increase the efficiency of the legal process and reduce court time and litigation costs. Most class actions do not involve witnesses and exhibits, only facts and questions about the case. Class action lawsuits have a representative plaintiff and an appointed class counsel, so plaintiffs are not required to be present in court.
Unless an individual opts out of a class action lawsuit, he/she will receive a percentage of the settlement when the case ends. In the United States, most class action lawsuits are filed in civil court unless they are regulated by federal laws. Under the Class Action Fairness Act, class action lawsuits with damages of more than $5 million can be moved from a civil court to a federal court.
In some cases, class action lawsuits may result in small awards or no awards at all. Settlements are usually divided up between all plaintiffs after fees for lawyers in Chicago are paid. Some class action lawsuits bind all class members with low settlement offers such as a small check or a coupon offer for future products and services.