6 former Hinsdale South teachers sue Sterigenics, allege ethylene oxide emissions caused cancer

NAPERVILLE, Ill. (WLS) -- Six former Hinsdale South High School teachers filed a lawsuit Friday against Stereginics, alleging ethylene oxide emissions from its medical supplies sterilization facilities in Willowbook gave them cancer.

The plaintiffs, Carol Tufo, Jeanne Conrad-DeBroeck, Carol Hanley, Rose Keppler, and Marguerite Vahldieck say the ethylene oxide from Sterigenics caused their breast cancers. Mary Margaret Eskey says it caused her to develop non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

Tufo was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, at the time she said she had no idea how she developed it, and a large number of school employees also developed cancer.

She still recalls her despair as she underwent chemotherapy.

"I planned my own funeral," Tufo said.

Hindsdale South High School is located less than a mile away from the Sterigenics facilities in Willowbrook, which for years emitted highly toxic ethylene oxide, or EtO, from the time the plant opened in 1984 until earlier this year. In September, the parent company closed the facility back in the wake of state and federal investigations.

Tufo said she believes that's what caused the cancer.

Conrad-DeBroeck worked at the high school full time from 1979 to 1999, and as a substitute teacher from 1999 to 2011. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015 and had a double mastectomy.

"There are people that I loved at Hinsdale South who have lost their lives, that angers me greatly," Conrad-DeBroeck said.

The lawsuit says Eskey worked full time at the school from 1978 to 1996. She was diagnosed with cancer in 2013.

Hanley worked full time at the school from 1980 to 2002, and was diagnosed in 2019.

Keppler worked full-time at the school from 1977 to 2005, and as a substitute teacher from 2006 to 2009. She was diagnosed in 2013.

Vahldieck worked full time at the school from 1982 to 2012, and was diagnosed in 2012.

Tufo worked full time at the school from 1969 to 1971 and 1981 to 2001.

Their suit seeks to consolidate with several other lawsuits filed against Sterigenics, bringing the total number to 85 people who claim exposure to EtO from the company has led to serious health problems.

"We intend to prove that Carol's cancer and Jeanne's cancer was caused by decisions Sterigenics made everyday to put a human carcinogen out into the air," said Shaw Collins, who represents the teachers.

Collins said the state warned Sterigenics before opening in 1984 about the potential danger or ethylene oxide being emitted into the air.

"I can't imagine anybody or any company putting poison in the air and having money be more important than people," Tufo said.

Sterigenics released a statement Friday night, saying, "Sterigenics empathizes with anyone battling cancer. Sterigenics is confident that it is not responsible for causing the illness. We operate safely to sterilize vital medical products and have consistently complied with and outperformed applicable regulations. We intend to vigorously defend against unfounded and meritless claims."

Previous coverage:

Bill could phase out ethylene oxide by 2022 but ban not soon enough, activists say
32 new lawsuits filed against Sterigenics linked to cancer causing chemical
Willowbrook area community, politicians outraged over plan to reopen Sterigenics facility
Sterigenics Willowbrook facility could reopen after company says deal reached with state
Lake County ethylene oxide results released as Pritzker signs law cracking down on emissions
Lake County officials measuring levels of cancer-causing ethylene oxide
EPA: Residents within 1.5 miles of Sterigenics plant had up to 10x higher risk of cancer
Hearing held on Sterigenics lawsuit as residents fight to permanently close plant
Higher rates of cancer detected near Sterigenics, Illinois Department of Public Health study finds
EPA tests shows rapid drop in cancer-causing chemicals following Willowbrook Sterigenics closure
Judge denies Sterigenics temporary restraining order, Willowbrook facility remains closed
Sterigenics files emergency motion to reopen Willowbrook facility
Willowbrook Sterigenics plant shut down Friday night
Lawmakers join call to stop Sterigenics from operating in Willowbrook

Willowbrook residents call for Sterigenics shutdown after latest tests
Group releases 1984 EPA letter about cancer-causing chemical in Willowbrook
Water tested for cancer-causing chemical near Sterigenics plant in Willowbrook
New EPA data reveals cancer-causing chemical still present near Sterigenics
Sterigenics lawsuit goes to court Thursday, EPA holds packed forum in Willowbrook
Sterigenics air quality measurements flawed, EPA says
2 Lake County medical manufacturing plants' toxic emissions cause concern
Illinois AG files lawsuit against Sterigenics over alleged toxic air pollution violations
Lisa Madigan: Rauner's office hid health dangers of Willowbrook Sterigenics plant for months
Illinois EPA orders Sterigenics to cease operations in Willowbrook until safety review complete
EPA to test air quality after Sterigenics emissions concerns
Andrea Thome believes carcinogenic emissions from Sterigenics in Willowbrook sickened family
Willowbrook residents rally, demand gas-emitting company shut down
Angry Willowbrook residents pack meeting on carcinogenic gas
Willowbrook residents concerned about emission of carcinogenic gas from local company
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