Sterigenics must pay $363 million to a woman who claims that three decades of exposure to ethylene oxide from one of its plants contributed to her development of breast cancer, according to a jury in Cook County, Ill..
Sterigenics’ Willowbrook plant has been the target of more than 760 lawsuits over the toxic emissions. The suits claim that the medical device sterilization company knew of the health hazards from breathing poisonous chemicals, but didn’t warn the neighboring community.
The company uses ethylene oxide to sterilize medical supplies by sealing products in a room and allowing the gas to penetrate through boxes and other packaging to kill every living microorganism. It released the poisonous gas from the building via a vacuum pump before allowing employees to enter the sterilization chamber.
Sue Kamuda’s suit was the first to go to trial. She developed breast cancer due to the emissions, and her son developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphona, she said. The Willowbrook census tract was in the 99.9th percentile for cancer risk in the county, according to data from the Environmental Protection Agency.
The jury returned their verdict to Judge Marguerite Quinn of the Illinois Circuit Court, awarding Kamuda $38 million in compensatory damages and $325 million in punitive damages.
“We do not believe the jury verdict in this matter reflects the evidence presented in court. Sterigenics is evaluating the verdict and plans to challenge this decision through all appropriate process, including appeals,” Sterigenics said in a statement. “We will continue to vigorously defend against allegations about our ethylene oxide operations and emissions.”
Kamuda was represented by Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard PC; The Collins Law Firm; and Miner, Barnhill & Galland PC.
Sterigenics and Sotera Health are represented by Sidley Austin LLP, Chuhak & Tecson PC, and Hollingsworth LLP.
The case is Kamuda v. Clark, Ill. Cir. Ct., No. 2018-L-010475, 9/19/22.