In the communities of people living and working around the 100+ facilities across the U.S. that use a chemical called ethylene oxide, contamination in the air may cause cancer.
If your family lives near a commercial sterilization facility, a manufacturing plant or another kind of industrial facility that may use this carcinogenic chemical and you or a family member has been diagnosed with cancer, air contamination could be to blame. The factory or facility may be exposing your entire community to toxic chemicals, and you may be entitled to compensation that can help pay for your cancer treatment and the other damages you have suffered.
Ethylene oxide lawsuits, or EtO lawsuits, are the civil legal claims that arise out of cancer and other medical conditions believed to be caused by exposure to this harmful chemical through air contamination.
Ethylene oxide, or EtO, is a colorless gas that consists of molecules of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. The gas is usually odorless except at particularly high levels, at which point it can develop the faint sweet odor of ether.
Although you may not be able to see or smell this gas, it is still highly reactive, flammable, and—according to decades of scientific research—harmful to humans.
The EtO lawsuits that are currently proceeding claim that the companies that use this chemical in large quantities exposed people living and working in the communities near their facilities to a carcinogenic, or cancer-causing, chemical.
Lawsuits may also allege that these companies failed to warn the public of health risks they knew or should have known about and that they failed to utilize the pollution control methods needed to eliminate EtO emissions or reduce emissions to a safer level.
The people who are pursuing ethylene oxide lawsuits were exposed to the chemical through air contamination.
Although the companies that use EtO are supposed to take precautions to minimize the risk of an EtO gas leak, the EPA has uncovered dangerously high levels of ethylene oxide contaminating the air in residential areas surrounding almost two dozen commercial facilities that use the chemical.
Where is ethylene oxide found? The chemical is used mainly in industrial manufacturing plants and commercial sterilization facilities.
Unfortunately, ethylene oxide gas has been found in dangerously high levels in the air of communities in the vicinity of these factories.
How is ethylene oxide used in industrial plant manufacturing?
In manufacturing, EtO is used mainly as an intermediate in the production of the industrial chemical ethylene glycol, the United States Department of Labor Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) reported.
In other words, chemical manufacturing companies use this gas to manufacture other chemical products, such as antifreeze and water bottles, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported. The American Chemistry Council includes on the list of products made using ethylene oxide household cleaners, personal care products, and fabrics, among others.
The other major use of ethylene oxide is in the sterilization of medical equipment and devices, the EPA reported. The gas can also be used to sterilize other products.
Why is ethylene oxide used for sterilization? The gas effectively kills not only viruses but also bacteria, fungi, and bacterial spores. Because it doesn’t use steam, ethylene oxide gas sterilization can be used for products and devices that would be damaged by exposure to high levels of heat.
The use of ethylene oxide sterilization “is a well-established and scientifically-proven method of preventing harmful microorganisms from reproducing and causing infections,” the FDA reported. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) reported that EtO sterilization is compatible with most medical materials and can penetrate packaging materials to sterilize the items they contain.
Hospitals and other healthcare facilities use ethylene oxide “gas” sterilization methods. However, EtO exposure from ethylene oxide commercial sterilization facilities is the most worrying. In August 2022, the EPA identified the 23 of these EtO commercial sterilization facilities across numerous states where the surrounding communities had the highest lifetime risk from ethylene oxide emissions.
The American Chemistry Council called medical sterilization a “small but important use” of the chemical. However, the EPA reported that about half of sterile medical devices are sterilized with EtO, per data from the Food and Drug Administration. That amounts to around 20 billion medical devices each year—a fact that explains why hospitals, healthcare facilities, and sterilization plants across the nation continue to use EtO today despite the extensively researched risks associated with the chemical.
In addition to sterilizing medical equipment, ethylene oxide may also be used to sterilize items like spices and cosmetics, OSHA reported.
Another use of EtO is as a fumigant in some agricultural products, OSHA reported.
However, ethylene oxide is used in smaller amounts in fumigants. The current ethylene oxide injury lawsuits pertain to people living and working in the communities near facilities that use EtO for manufacturing or sterilization purposes.
Although the CDC reported that “very small” amounts of ethylene oxide may be found in nature—and that a limited amount of ethylene oxide is formed inside the human body by naturally occurring bacteria—the EtO used by industrial facilities and sterilization plants is synthetic, or man-made.
This gas isn’t naturally occurring in the environment, so it’s clear that the high levels of it found in many communities in the vicinity of commercial sterilization facilities are the result of air contamination.
Due to the overwhelming evidence that exposure to ethylene oxide can be harmful, companies that use the chemical may be subject to government regulations.
For example, commercial sterilization facilities have to comply with the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) established under the federal Clean Air Act, according to the EPA. New information about the risks of ethylene oxide that has come to light in recent years has prompted the EPA to undertake the process of updating the regulations commercial sterilizers must follow with regard to EtO.
OSHA has established standards for acceptable levels of airborne EtO in the workplace.
Individual states may establish additional standards and regulations for ethylene oxide emissions.
The EPA maintains a list of nearly 100 ethylene oxide commercial sterilization facilities across 32 states and Puerto Rico. This figure doesn’t include other types of companies, like chemical and industrial manufacturers, that use EtO.
In an August 2022 report, the EPA revealed that the cancer risk at 23 of these commercial sterilizers was in excess of 100 additional cancer cases per million people exposed, according to its most recent risk assessment.
These facilities include the following:
As more information emerges about the harm attributed to EtO emissions, the data may provide a clearer picture of the cancer risk and other health risks to people who live and work in these communities—and in other communities located near sterilization facilities and chemical manufacturing plants.
The gas is, in the words of the American Chemistry Council, “a versatile building block of chemistry”—a quality that adds to the unfortunate prevalence of this cancer-causing chemical.
For medical supplies that can’t be sterilized by steam without damaging the equipment, such as health care providers’ personal protective equipment (PPE), ethylene oxide sterilization is currently the only method of sterilization available, according to the EPA. In fact, the FDA reported as of August 2022 that EtO sterilization “is currently the most commonly used method in the U.S.” and remains a widely used method of medical supplies sterilization all over the world.
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Is ethylene oxide dangerous? The consensus among numerous national and global environmental and health and safety experts is that, yes, exposure to EtO emissions is dangerous to humans.
“EtO possesses several physical and health hazards that merit special attention,” according to OSHA. These hazards include not only the immediate effects of acute exposures but also serious health conditions, like cancer, that have been linked to chronic exposure to the chemical.
According to the CDC, “The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has determined that ethylene oxide is known to be a human carcinogen,” and “The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has concluded that inhalation exposure to ethylene oxide is carcinogenic to humans.”
Cancer, reproductive effects including miscarriages and birth defects, neurotoxicity and mutagenic changes, or changes in the DNA of a person’s cells, are among the serious health risks associated with chronic exposure to EtO, according to OSHA.
Most deaths associated with ethylene oxide result from cancer or another health condition attributed to the toxic chemical.
However, the National Research Council Committee on Acute Exposure Guideline Levels reported at least one instance of “acute lethality” in which three workers suffered accidental acute exposure to high levels of the chemical in 1957. The three workers died after the serious effects they suffered led them to fall into a coma and sustain circulatory collapse and respiratory failure.
Can ethylene oxide change DNA? The chemical’s capability to induce mutagenic changes that mutate an individual’s DNA is what makes it able to affect genes and cells, causing the development of cancer.
“The ability of ethylene oxide to damage DNA makes it an effective sterilizing agent but also accounts for its cancer-causing activity,” the National Cancer Institute reported.
Is ethylene oxide carcinogenic? The EPA couldn’t be clearer on this point, stating, “Yes, EtO is a human carcinogen. It causes cancer in humans.”
Specifically, the EPA has cited “scientific evidence in humans”—rather than assumptions made based on animal testing—that show that “exposure to EtO for many years increases the risk of cancers” of several types. Further, the EPA reported that this increase in risk results from merely breathing in the gas in contaminated air.
Which cancers are associated with ethylene oxide exposure?
The types of cancers for which there is the strongest evidence of a causal link to ethylene oxide include:
Other types of cancer that have been reported in connection with exposure to EtO include:
This isn’t an exhaustive list of the harm that may be attributed to ethylene oxide exposure, especially as more research is still emerging. Anyone who lives or works in a community affected by high levels of EtO and has been diagnosed with any form of cancer or another serious health issue should consider speaking to an experienced ethylene oxide attorney about their rights and legal options.
Just a few years later, in 1981, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommended that the chemical “be regarded in the workplace as a potential occupational carcinogen,” as reported by the CDC.
By 1985, a World Health Organization (WHO) ethylene oxide report concluded that “ethylene oxide should be considered as a probable human carcinogen, and that its levels in the environment should be kept as low as feasible.”
As more research emerged over the years that followed, it only cemented earlier findings of the dangers posed by ethylene oxide. The International Agency for Research on Cancer and the World Health Organization categorized ethylene oxide as a Group 1 human carcinogen, meaning that the chemical was known (not just suspected) to cause cancer.
Despite the years of evidence of ethylene oxide’s potential for harm, it was only recently—in December 2016—that the EPA updated the toxicity value, or the threshold of exposure considered harmful, for EtO. This change, the EPA noted, “reflects our updated understanding that EtO is 60 times more toxic than the previous estimate.”
It wasn’t until 2018 that the agency’s first assessment using that new toxicity value showed the extent of the risk posed by companies, like commercial sterilization facilities, that use ethylene oxide in large amounts.
Aside from the numerous types of cancer that have been linked to this carcinogenic chemical, what types of injuries result from ethylene oxide emissions? Among the dozens of health issues with which EtO exposure has been linked are the following:
According to OSHA, the CDC, and other health and safety agencies, some symptoms that may help you recognize acute exposure to high levels of ethylene oxide gas include:
If you believe that environmental exposure to toxic EtO gas has caused you to develop cancer or another serious medical condition, you need to take action right away to prevent further harm to your health and preserve your legal rights.
Talk to your doctor about your concerns. If you haven’t been diagnosed with cancer but have worrying symptoms, find out what screening and diagnostic tests your doctor recommends for you. You may also undergo medical tests to determine if you are currently being exposed to EtO, according to the CDC. Find out if your doctor recommends taking additional precautions to limit further exposure to ethylene oxide.
Cancer patients and their families who blame toxic exposure to EtO are currently moving forward with legal claims. You, too, could be eligible for financial compensation, but you may only have a limited time to act. The sooner you reach out to an attorney about your case, the better.
You don’t have to
go through this alone.
Ethylene oxide exposure has led to hundreds of civil lawsuits on behalf of cancer patients and their families.
The sterilizing and manufacturing facilities that have already been sued include Sterigenics’ plant in Willowbrook, Illinois, (Bloomberg Law News) and Terumo BCT in Lakewood, Colorado (Denver Westword).
The only way to know for sure if you have a claim is to contact a law firm that handles ethylene oxide lawsuits to discuss the unique circumstances of your case.
There are, however, some basic facts that may help you make an educated decision about whether—and when—to speak to an attorney.
Generally, to have the grounds for an EtO lawsuit, you need to meet two criteria:
The cases moving forward at this time primarily involve cancer diagnoses. If you have questions about potential EtO exposure cases involving other types of injuries, you should reach out to an attorney right away.
Unfortunately, children may be at a higher risk of developing EtO-related cancer. Ethylene oxide’s potential to damage DNA affects children more because their cells divide at a more rapid rate compared to those of adults, the EPA reported.
While chronic exposure to high levels of EtO in the air can raise the lifetime cancer risk of any individual, regardless of age, the increase in the lifetime cancer risk from a single year of exposure is greater among people whose exposure occurred during childhood, according to the EPA. The more years a child—or, for that matter, anyone—spends exposed to high levels of EtO, the greater the increase in their lifetime cancer risk.
Despite the reasons children are even more vulnerable to harm from EtO, adults may also be at risk of developing cancer due to ethylene oxide exposure. Some of these commercial sanitizers and industrial manufacturing plants have been using EtO for decades, and so adults who grew up in these areas were exposed to the chemical throughout their childhood.
In an EtO exposure lawsuit, cancer victims and their families can seek compensation for a variety of damages arising out of their illness. The harms and losses for which you can collect money damages may include:
An attorney with experience handling toxic exposure cases can calculate the full amount of money you deserve for your claim and make sure you aren’t leaving out any recoverable damages.
Some major settlements have already been awarded in EtO exposure cancer claims.
For example, a jury in Cook County, Illinois, ordered commercial sterilizer Sterigenics, along with fellow defendants Sotera Health and Griffith Foods, to pay $363 million in compensation in the case of Willowbrook, IL, resident Sue Kamuda in September 2022. Kamuda was diagnosed with breast cancer, and her son was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The EPA determined that the Willowbrook census tract, where Kamuda lived and from which 760 more lawsuits were soon filed, “was in the 99.9th percentile for cancer risk in the county,” Bloomberg Law News reported.
In January 2023, Sterigenics’ parent company Sotera Health agreed to pay a total of $408 million to settle more than 870 outstanding lawsuits filed in the county, Reuters reported.
Claims are continuing to be filed against multiple ethylene oxide companies in regions across the United States. More verdicts and settlements will be reached as these cases move forward.
You don’t have to go through this alone. Our experienced toxic exposure attorneys are standing by to help. We’ll handle every aspect of your claim for compensation so the legal matter never becomes a hassle for you or your family. All you need to do is focus on your health.
Working with an ETO cancer attorney begins with a free, no-obligation consultation, during which we gather the information needed to launch an initial investigation and answer any questions you may have.
If you have a case, your ethylene oxide cancer attorneys will gather evidence, secure expert opinions, prepare legal documents and represent you in all related legal proceedings, all at no upfront cost to you.
When you’re facing the financial burden of a cancer battle, shelling out thousands of dollars for professional legal representation isn’t an option. Your ability to hold the company accountable and receive the compensation you need shouldn’t depend on your ability to pay for legal services during this already difficult time.
That’s why experienced ethylene oxide exposure attorneys are currently handling claims like yours on a no-win, no-fee basis. You only ever have to pay for our services if and when we succeed in getting compensation for you (and you’ll only owe a fraction of the money we were able to get you).
Every person whose health has been seriously affected by an industrial facility’s failure to prevent ethylene oxide leaks deserves the opportunity to hold the defendant company responsible for its actions and the money that can help them afford the best possible treatment for their medical condition. We handle every ethylene oxide lawsuit we accept on a no-win, no-fee basis to make sure pursuing a legal claim isn’t adding to the troubles you’re facing.
If you’re ready to hire an experienced EtO cancer attorney for your ethylene oxide lawsuit—or just learn more about your legal rights and options—the next step is a free consultation with Console & Associates, P.C. Call 866-778-5500 today or contact us online to get started.
Ethylene oxide injury lawsuits are currently being filed by cancer patients nationwide. Hundreds of claims have already been resolved through settlements or jury awards, some of which have amounted to hundreds of millions of dollars.
If you believe exposure to ethylene oxide caused you to develop cancer, an attorney can investigate your unique situation at no upfront charge to determine whether you may have a case. Pursuing a lawsuit allows you to hold the factory or sterilization facility accountable for exposing your community to this cancer-causing chemical and receive the compensation you deserve.
The compensation you receive in an ethylene oxide cancer lawsuit payout is meant to cover your medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other losses you sustained because of your illness.