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Ethylene Oxide Lawsuit

Ethylene Oxide (ETO) Cancer Attorneys

Ethylene oxide (ETO) is a colorless and odorless manufacturing chemical used to sterilize medical products. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declared in late 2016 that highly toxic ethylene oxide is a human carcinogen, responding to studies showing that workers who were frequently around the chemical had an elevated risk of breast and blood cancers.

More than 100 plants around the United States utilize this chemical—and many of them are near communities that could be at risk. A few communities have already fought back by suing the companies that irresponsibly dumped carcinogenic vapors into the air they breathe.

If you believe ethylene oxide exposure from environmental pollution caused your cancer or other serious health concerns, contact the personal injury attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC right away. You can reach our law firm at 1-888-424-5757 or send us a message through our website.

Ethylene Oxide Lawsuit Lawyer

What is Ethylene Oxide?

Ethylene oxide is an odorless, colorless gas. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the chemical is most often used to make ethylene glycol—that is, it's a by-product of manufacturing.

It can persist for 69 to 149 days when released into the air, depending on the temperature and the winds. Rain does not wash it away. Since people can’t smell or see it, they may be breathing it constantly without realizing it.

How is Ethylene Oxide Used in Industrial Plant Manufacturing?

Ethylene oxide is created during the process of making ethylene glycol, which most consumers know as antifreeze. It's also part of the process for making several other products, including:

  • Polyester fibers for both fabrics and carpets
  • PVC pipe
  • Polyurethane foam
  • Medicines
  • Glues and adhesives
  • Detergents

Also, ethylene oxide is used to sterilize certain products that can't be sterilized with steam, such as a medical device, culinary spices, and makeup. It is even used to fumigate buildings.

What Are the Health Risks With Ethylene Oxide?

In late 2016, the EPA classified ethylene oxide as a human carcinogen. This classification decision was a response to studies showing that inhaling the chemical can, if inhaled for long enough, cause cancer in human beings.

The cancers and medical conditions identified include:

  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Myeloma
  • Lymphocytic leukemia
  • Breast cancer in women
  • Brain cancer
  • Stomach cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Connective tissue cancers
  • Uterine cancer

Studies of factory workers show that long-term chronic exposure can also cause:

  • Irritation of the skin and eyes
  • Respiratory irritation
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Numbness
  • Memory loss
  • Increased risk of miscarriage in pregnant women
  • Decreased sperm and testicular weight in men

These long-tern hazardous air pollutant complications are separate from the effects of exposure to a high concentration of ETO at once, which can cause neurological disorders, emphysema, bronchitis, and excess fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema).

This news was troubling for people who live near factories. Since ethylene oxide is part of the manufacturing process for so many items, factories all over the United States may have been emitting it before the EPA classified it as a carcinogen.

People who work in those factories or live or work nearby can be inadvertently exposed. The EPA says ethylene oxide is eliminated from the body within a few hours—but if it's always in the air, this may not help.

Ethylene Oxide Lawsuit

Do the Factories That Emit Ethylene Oxide Have any Responsibility?

Although the EPA did not classify ethylene oxide as a carcinogenic agent until 2016, scientific evidence from as far back as 1985 and 1991 showed an increased cancer risk among human beings who inhaled ethylene oxide for prolonged periods.

Also, multiple factories that utilize ethylene oxide remained open, with no change to their emissions practices, after the 2016 announcement. That includes a factory in Covington, Georgia, which continued to create emissions at higher pre-2016 levels until at least 2019.

According to Georgia Health News, the Georgia Comprehensive Cancer Registry shows that neighbors of that plant have an increased non-Hodgkin lymphoma rate. Similarly, a CDC review of emissions near the Willowbrook Sterigenics plant found an additional lifetime risk of 6.4 cancers per 1,000 people—cancer risks that would not exist if not for the toxic ethylene oxide emissions.

What can I do if Ethylene Oxide Exposure Causes My Cancer?

The EPA, which makes rules about acceptable air pollution levels, is pursuing a new rule regulating ethylene oxide emissions. States may also make emissions rules for factories that are responsible for ethylene oxide pollution.

But for communities that lie near factories that emit the chemical, it may be too late. One mother in Lake County, Illinois, told the EPA that her three-year-old had been diagnosed with leukemia.

People in that position may instead consider pursuing compensation from the companies that caused their cancers, through an ethylene oxide cancer lawsuit.

These legal claims allege that the company knowingly and carelessly dumped ethylene oxide into the air, that this pollution exposed its neighbors and its employees to elevated cancer risk, and that the people suing were diagnosed with cancer.

In the case of factories that continued emitting ethylene oxide even after they knew they were raising the cancer risk in nearby communities, all three of those elements may be provable. Sterigenics, the parent company that ran the Willowbrook, Illinois plant is already defending itself against at least 76 lawsuits.

Qualifying for an Ethylene Oxide Claim?

Lawsuits are intended to hold a wrongdoer responsible for actions that hurt innocent people. In cases of toxic ethylene oxide exposure that led to cancer or other serious health problem, that could mean financial compensation for:

  • Medical bills related to the health problems from ethylene oxide exposure
  • Inability to work for medical reasons
  • Lost quality of life created by the medical problems
  • The loss of a loved one who died after exposure to ethylene oxide

While money is a poor substitute for good health, this money may be desperately needed by families struggling with medical costs and the inability to earn a living. When another party’s negligence caused cancer, a claim is an opportunity to make that party redress the product’s carcinogenic effects.

A legal claim and lawsuit typically permits you to ask for a court order requiring the company to stop the pollution (if it hasn’t already closed). And a large jury verdict or financial settlement can also show other companies responsible for ethylene oxide emissions that if they don’t stop, they could be forced to pay as well.

Ethylene Oxide Lawsuit Attorneys

Ethylene Oxide Exposure has Led to Civil lawsuits

Yes, particularly in the community surrounding the shuttered Willowbrook, IL factory—but not just there—numerous people have sued that factory's owner, arguing that its ethylene oxide exposure caused their cancer or the cancer of a loved one.


The Chicago Tribune reported in January 2020 that a total of 76 ethylene oxide lawsuits had been filed against Sterigenics at that time, alleging that ethylene oxide emissions from the company's plant in Lake County led to their health problems. That article focused on a December 2019 lawsuit filed against Sterigenics by six former teachers at Hinsdale South High School, all of whom had been diagnosed with cancer.

One of the personal injury lawsuits filed by a teacher, who was at the school for 22 years, claimed that she used to open classroom windows for fresh air; she now cannot walk both of her dogs at the same time, because of the damage to her strength due to her partial mastectomy.

Medline Industries and Vantage Specialty Chemicals

At least four lawsuits were filed against Medline Industries and Vantage Specialty Chemicals, two companies that run factories in Waukegan, IL, and Gurnee, IL. The lawsuits filed against the plants alleged that they knowingly emitted ethylene oxide levels that exceeded the acceptable risk considerably. The lawyers involved said in August 2019 that more lawsuits were likely to be filed.

Union Carbide

At least two proposed class-action lawsuits—which bring together many people who have the same complaint against the same company—allege that a South Charleston, West Virginia factory owned by Union Carbide has knowingly exposed its neighbors to unsafe levels of ethylene oxide for years. The ethylene oxide lawsuits involve plaintiffs living in areas where residents are statistically twice as likely as the average American to develop cancer.

Ethylene Oxide Cancer FAQs

Does Ethylene Oxide Kill Viruses?

According to the National Institutes of Health, ethylene oxide is an alkylating agent that attacks nucleic acids, proteins, and organic compounds. Ethylene oxide is used in doctor’s offices, medical centers, and hospitals to kill microorganisms, viruses, and bacteria on medical equipment and supplies even when dangerous to the public.

However, the toxic substance is extremely dangerous and readily assimilated into the lungs. As a liquid, it can penetrate human skin.

What Does Ethylene Oxide Sterilize?

The Atlanta-based CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recognizes ethylene oxide is an effective virus killer when sterilizing equipment and supplies.

Ethylene oxide can be used to sterilize medical devices, including:

  • Catheters
  • Stents
  • Multi-lumen tubing products
  • Electronic integrated equipment
  • Wound care dressing
  • Customized procedure packs
  • Assembled complex devices

However, sterilizing a medical device usually exposes employees during the sterilization process.

What Cancers Does Ethylene Oxide Cause?

According to the National Institutes of Health, exposure to ethylene oxide to ingestion or inhalation can cause catastrophic results. Long-term exposure could cause the development of known cancers, including:

  • Breast-cancer
  • Brain cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Uterine cancer
  • Leukemia
  • Lymphoma
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma

Do Hospitals Use Ethylene Oxide?

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), hospitals, doctors’ offices, and medical centers use ethylene oxide to sterilize a medical device, making it safe to use. The toxic chemical does not damage the sterilized medical equipment during the commercial sterilization process.

The sterilization process using ethylene oxide can sterilize wounds, dressings, catheters, stents, and other medical devices used in general health care practices for the treatment of specific areas of the body. Also, the toxic substance can be used to sterilize complex medical devices, packaging, and electronic-integrated equipment.

Ethylene Oxide Lawsuits: Hire an Experienced ETO Cancer Attorney

Did ethylene oxide gas injure you, or did you lose a loved one in a preventable death due to years of exposure to a toxic chemical? Did you receive a cancer diagnosis or suffer another serious injury from years of exposure to the toxic gas?

Contact the law firm of Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC today to discuss your rights and your legal options for claims. Call our law firm today at (888) 424-5757 (toll-free phone call) or fill out the contact form to schedule a free consultation.

All discussions with our law firm remain confidential through an attorney-client relationship. Our attorneys follow social distancing guidelines to prevent the spread of Covid-19 (coronavirus).


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