Ethylene oxide is a manufacturing chemical that is colorless and odorless—but evidence shows that it's not harmless. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declared in late 2016 that ethylene oxide is a 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 factories around the United States use ethylene oxide—and many of them are near communities that could be at risk. A few have already fought back by suing the companies that irresponsibly dumped carcinogens into the air they breathe.
If you believe ethylene oxide exposure from environmental pollution caused your cancer or another serious health concern, contact the ethylene oxide cancer attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers right away. You can reach us at 1-888-424-5757 or send us a message through our website.
What is Ethylene Oxide?
Ethylene oxide is an odorless, colorless gas. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, ethylene oxide is most often used to make ethylene glycol—that is, it's a by-product of manufacturing. When released into the air, it can persist for 69 to 149 days, 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 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
- Glues and adhesives
In addition, ethylene oxide is used to sterilize certain things that can't be sterilized with steam, such as medical equipment, culinary spices, and makeup. It is even used to fumigate buildings.
What's the Problem With Ethylene Oxide?
In late 2016, the EPA classified ethylene oxide as a 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 identified include:
- Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
- Lymphocytic leukemia
- Breast cancer in women
- Brain 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
- Memory loss
- Increased risk of miscarriage in pregnant women
- Decreased sperm and testicular weight in men
These are separate from the effects of exposure to a lot of ethylene oxide 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.
After learning about the cancer risk from ethylene oxide, certain communities responded with anger and fear. Here in Illinois, people in the suburban Chicago communities of Willowbrook, Waukegan and Gurnee were upset when they learned—thanks to a 2018 report from the Chicago Tribune—that ethylene oxide was being emitted from three plants in the area. In late 2019, the University of Illinois at Chicago found elevated ethylene oxide levels in the bloodstreams of people who live near the remaining two factories.
That study continued into 2020, as did the efforts in Lake County to stop ethylene oxide emissions. Community pressure helped close down the facility in Willowbrook permanently; the Waukegan plant was temporarily closed in early 2020. It also may have helped pass two bills in the Illinois legislature that limit ethylene oxide emissions. One of those bills was named for a man who died of cancer after pressing to close the Willowbrook factory.
Do the Factories That Emit Ethylene Oxide Have any Responsibility?
Although the EPA did not classify ethylene oxide as a carcinogen 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.
In addition, multiple factories that use 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. The Georgia Comprehensive Cancer Registry shows that neighbors of that plant have an increased rate of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, according to Georgia Health News. Similarly, a CDC review of emissions near the Willowbrook, Illinois 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 Caused my Cancer?
The EPA, which makes rules about acceptable levels of air pollution, 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 lawsuits allege that the company knowingly and carelessly dumped ethylene oxide into the air, that this pollution exposed its neighbors and its employees to an 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. The parent company that ran the Willowbrook, Illinois plant is already defending itself against at least 76 lawsuits.
What Compensation can I Receive in an Ethylene Oxide Cancer Lawsuit?
Lawsuits are intended to hold a wrongdoer responsible for actions that hurt innocent people. In cases of toxic ethylene oxide exposure that caused cancer or another serious health problem, that could mean financial compensation for:
- Medical bills related to the health problems caused by ethylene oxide
- Inability to work for health reasons
- Lost quality of life created by the health 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 the cancer was caused by another party's negligence, a lawsuit is an opportunity to make that party redress the harm it caused.
In addition, a 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.
Has Anyone Sued Because of Ethylene Oxide Exposure?
Yes, particularly in the community surrounding the shuttered Willowbrook, Illinois factory—but not just there—numerous people have sued that factory's owner, arguing that its ethylene oxide emissions caused their cancer or the cancer of a family member.
- Sterigenics: The Chicago Tribune reported in January 2020 that a total of 76 lawsuits had been filed at that time, alleging that ethylene oxide emissions from the Sterigenics plant in Lake County caused their health problems. That article focused on a December 2019 lawsuit from six former teachers at Hinsdale South High School, all of whom had been diagnosed with cancer. One of the teachers, who was at the school for 22 years, noted 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 caused by a partial mastectomy.
- Medline Industries and Vantage Specialty Chemicals: At least four lawsuits have been filed against the companies that run factories in Waukegan, Illinois and Gurnee, Illinois, alleging that they knowingly emitted levels of ethylene oxide that exceeded the acceptable risk considerably. The lawyers involved said in August 2019 that more lawsuits were likely.
- 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 plaintiffs live in areas where residents are statistically twice as likely as the average American to develop cancer.
Contact an Experienced Ethylene Oxide Cancer Attorney Today
If you or someone you care about suffered a cancer diagnosis or other serious injury because of exposure to ethylene oxide, don't hesitate to contact Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers. We can explain your rights and your legal options. You can send us a message online or call today at 1-888-424-5757.
U.S. Ethylene Oxide Factories
|Name of Company:||City:||State:||Emmissions:|
|Terumo BCT Sterilization Services Inc.||Jefferson Co||CO||1.11 tons|
|Croda Inc.||New Castle Co||DE||1.347147965 tons|
|C. R. Bard Inc.||Newton Co||GA||3.02355 tons|
|Griffith Micro Science Inc||Cobb Co||GA||1.5945 tons|
|Medline Industries Inc. Northpoint Services Div||Lake Co||IL||1.5288 tons|
|Sterigenics US LLC - Willowbrook||DuPage Co||IL||2.78298184 tons|
|Van Diest Supply Company||Hamilton Co||IA||1.27 tons|
|Monument Chemical Kentucky LLC||Meade Co||KY||1.875501 tons|
|Air Products Performance Manufacturing Inc. - Reserve Plant||St. John the Baptist||LA||1.61095 tons|
|BASF Corp. - Geismar Site||Ascension Par||LA||7.13912891 tons|
|BCP Ingredients Inc.||Iberville Par||LA||2.5017100015 tons|
|Dow Inc. - Louisiana Operations||Iberville Par||LA||1.8021955 tons|
|Sasol Chemicals (USA) LLC - Lake Charles Chemical Complex||Calcasieu Par||LA||6.3198945 tons|
|Union Carbide Corp. - St. Charles Operations||St Charles Par||LA||15.0324015 tons|
|BCP Ingredients - Verona Plant||Lawrence Co||MO||1.83265 tons|
|Midwest Sterilization Corp. - Jackson||Cape Girardeau Co||MO||3.491 tons|
|Sterigenics US LLC - Santa Teresa Facility||Dona Ana Co||NM||2.8805 tons|
|B. Braun Medical Inc. - Allentown||Lehigh Co||PA||3.3 tons|
|Celanese Corp. - Clear Lake Plant||Harris Co||TX||5.9467 tons|
|Dow Inc. - Seadrift Plant||Calhoun Co||TX||5.1958 tons|
|Eastman Chemical Co. - Texas Operations||Harrison Co||TX||7.4139 tons|
|Huntsman Corp. - Conroe Facility||Montgomery Co||TX||2.6693 tons|
|Huntsman Corp. - Port Neches Plant||Jefferson Co||TX||10.776 tons|
|Midwest Sterilization Corp.||Webb Co||TX||7.869 tons|
|Sterigenics US LLC - Ethylene Oxide Commercial Sterilization||Salt Lake Co||TX||1.179 tons|
|Union Carbide Corp. - Institute||Kanawha Co||WV||2.9088 tons|