Sterigenics agrees to pay $408M to end over 870 lawsuits tied to Willowbrook plant

Sterigenics, a medical tool sterilization company, has agreed to pay $408 million to end more than 870 lawsuits. 

The parent company, Sotera Health, confirmed the news Monday night. 

The suits are tied to ethylene oxide emissions from their now-closed plant in Willowbrook.

The company said it was in its best interest to settle the lawsuits because significant time and cost would have been required to contest all of the cases, in addition to having to fight against "years of biased media coverage in the Chicago area." The completion of the settlement agreements is expected to take 90 to 120 days.

The agreement will allow the company to "focus its full attention on operating the business, serving our customers and delivering on our mission," the statement said.

The first cases against Sterigenics and other companies tied to the Willowbrook plant were filed in 2018, after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency published research showing people living nearby developed cancer at rates nine times the national average.

In September, a Cook County jury awarded $363 million to 70-year-old Sue Kamuda, who alleged the company exposed her to ethylene oxide gas and led to her cancer diagnosis. Jurors found that ethylene oxide emissions from the Willowbrook Sterigenics facility near the home where Kamuda lived for 20 years caused her cancer.

Sterigenics pushed back against the verdict at the time, saying it does not reflect the evidence presented in court.

The Willowbrook plant had been releasing ethylene oxide from 1985 until a temporary shutdown was ordered by state authorities in 2019. Sterigenics has since permanently closed the plant.


Sotera Health Company's full statement: 

"The agreements provide a pathway to comprehensively resolve the claims pending against Sterigenics and Sotera Health LLC in Illinois and thereby enable the Company to focus its full attention on operating the business, serving our customers and delivering on our mission of Safeguarding Global Health®. Sterigenics maintains that its Willowbrook operations did not pose a safety risk to the community in which it operated and believes the evidence and science ultimately would have compelled the rejection of the plaintiffs’ claims, as occurred in the Teresa Fornek trial. However, years of biased media coverage in the greater Chicago area, the significant costs of posting a large bond in support of the appeal of the Kamuda verdict and the time and expense that would have been required to continue to contest hundreds of additional lawsuits through a multiyear process in the Illinois court system led us to conclude that resolving the pending Willowbrook EO cases would be in the best interest of the Company and its stakeholders. As we have done consistently throughout our history, we will continue to operate our facilities in compliance with applicable rules and regulations and best industry practices to ensure the safety of our employees, the communities in which we operate and patients around the world."

Sotera Health said Sterigenics will fund an escrow account to pay the settlement by May 1, 2023.

The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.