Sterigenics accused of paying investors millions to avoid paying victims affected by pollution

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Last year, Sterigenics permanently close its facility in southwest suburban Willowbrook after months of controversy after testing found it emitted a cancer-causing chemical into the air around the plant.

Now, several of the families who claim they were affected by those chemicals say the company is making it more difficult for them to get the financial assistance they feel owed.

RELATED: Sterigenics' Willlowbrook facility will permanently close, company announces

Nearly a year ago, Colleen Hallen lost her husband Matt to stomach cancer, which she firmly believes was caused by the ethylene oxide emitted by the Sterigenics facility in Willowbrook.

"I lost the person I was supposed to grow old with, and my son lost his father," Hallen said.

Hallen is just one of about 80 plaintiffs who have filed a lawsuit against the company. Jeanne Hochhalter is another.

"Not only are our families left with cancer, but also the financial burdens of cancer," Hochhalter said.

The plaintiffs and their attorneys said Sterigenics is trying to escape having to pay those alleged financial burdens.

They claim the company has funneled $1.3 billion to investors over the last three years. They say they then borrowed cash from banks using the company as collateral, which means if the plaintiffs win in court they would have to get in line behind the banks to get paid.

"While Sterigenics was going to the bank to pull out hundreds of millions of dollars, our clients were going to the hospital to treat cancer caused by Sterigenics," said attorney Steven Hart.

"They're taking assets out of reach of the people who they damaged their health," said another attorney representing alleged victims.

Nevertheless, all the alleged victims say they plan to keep fighting regardless.

Lisa Flanagan was diagnosed with cancer more than a decade ago and says, "We're gonna make them pay because they did this to our community."

A spokesperson for the company responded Monday afternoon with a statement, denying the company is responsible for causing cancer. They also deny any financial misdeeds.

"Sterigenics and its parent Sotera Health are vibrant and growing companies and the recent claims to the contrary are inaccurate and misleading. The companies regularly take actions to maintain and enhance their financial strength for the benefit of all stakeholders as they invest for the future and continue to deliver vital services and products to customers. Assertions that the companies took actions with respect to capital structure in response to ongoing litigation are false."

"While we empathize with anyone dealing with cancer, we are confident that operations at our Willowbrook facility are not responsible for causing the illnesses alleged in any lawsuit. We look forward to continuing to present our case in court to defend against the plaintiffs' baseless charges."

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
RELATED: 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
RELATED: 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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