32 new lawsuits filed against Sterigenics linked to cancer causing chemical

WILLOWBROOK, Ill. (WLS) -- The operators of a still shuttered southwest suburban medical sterilization plant are facing nearly three dozen new lawsuits Tuesday, from current or former west suburban residents, who said the plant emits fumes that have caused cancer for them and their loved ones.

The 32 lawsuits filed against Sterigenics seek damages from the company, which operates a plant in Willowbrook.

Jeanne Hochhalter said that the cancer she developed is directly related to the long-term release years.

"It's been hell. I've been through chemo. I've had my body mutilated. It's impacted every single part of my life, and they knew. I got breast cancer. I have no family history of it," Hochhalter said, adding she's undergone 15 surgeries during the last six years.

Among the victims filing new lawsuits is Jana Conev, one of many who are already suffering.

"After I found my cancer, my husband was diagnosed with cancer, and his has spread," Conev said.

"I was right in my child bearing years and ready to have a family, and that was taken away. I didn't have a choice," said Lisa Flanagan.

"I chose to have a bilateral mastectomy. Every day I look in the mirror I have to see the scars," said Trish Watt.

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Dozens of new lawsuits have been filed against Sterigenics in the southwest suburbs.

The avalanche of lawsuits comes a month after Sterigenics reached an agreement with the state of Illinois to resume operations after additional emission capture and control equipment is installed.

Sterigenics also agreed to fund $300,000 in community projects designed in coordination with the state to benefit the environment and the local community.

When the agreement was announced, Sterigenics president Philip Macnabb said resolution of the matter puts the company a step closer to resuming the work of sterilizing vital medical products and devices for patients in Illinois and beyond.

In a statement, Sterigenics said "the company has historically outperformed what the law requires in controlling our emissions. We believe the claims against Sterigenics lack merit, and we intend to vigorously defend against them."

The victims suing Sterigenics argue the plant should never be allowed to reopen.

"Sterigenics just needs to leave. There is no amount of ethylene oxide that is safe," Fornek said.

No fewer than nine law firms are involved in this wave of litigation. Those attorneys said they expect perhaps hundreds more lawsuits to be filed.

Previous coverage:

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