The Risks of Ethylene Oxide, Explained

toxic fumesResidents of Willowbrook have the highest cancer risk in Illinois, and the 19th-highest in the nation, due to Sterigenics toxic ethylene oxide pollution.

For residents of the southwest Chicago suburbs, ethylene oxide has become a household name. Since 1984, a medical sterilization plant – Sterigenics International – has been releasing ethylene oxide into the air. For 30 years, the company claimed it was releasing the toxic gas responsibly, within the limits of state and federal standards of health.

Residents recently learned that this was false. A federal report now shows unusually high cancer risks from ethylene oxide pollution in the communities surrounding the Sterigenics plant.

Read the August 2018 report by the Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry here.

The communities of Willowbrook, Oak Park, La Grange, Burr Ridge, Indian Head Park, Countryside, and Willow Springs quickly organized against the company, and are calling for its closure.

Our attorneys are accepting cases of cancer, miscarriages, and birth defects from people who live or work near the Sterigenics plant in Willowbrook.

Residents Demand Answers

After weeks of downplaying the health risks of ethylene oxide pollution, Governor Bruce Rauner finally joins residents in pushing Sterigenics to shut down. Rauner’s private equity firm is a co-owner of Sterigenics, and the governor still has a financial interest in the company.

Rauner is also refusing to release documents held by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA). The IEPA has important documents related to highly toxic gas emissions from Sterigenics over the last 30 years, but Rauner will not hand them over to the state Attorney General and the public. These annual emissions reports break down the amount of pollution released into the air each hour by the plant.

Health Effects of Ethylene Oxide

Sterigenics uses ethylene oxide to sterilize medical instruments and pharmaceuticals. The gas is an effective sterilizing agent because it damages DNA, however, cancer is caused by DNA cells that have been damaged and start to multiply.

So, the reason that Sterigenics uses ethylene oxide for sterilizing medical products, is the same reason it’s so toxic and dangerous to public health.

The most significant health effects of ethylene oxide exposure are:

  • Birth Defects
  • Brain Cancer
  • Breast Cancer
  • Leukemia
  • Lung Cancer
  • Lymphomas
  • Miscarriages
  • Uterine Cancer

Lawsuits Filed, Justice Sought

Since 1984, Sterigenics has been polluting the air of suburban Chicago with a cancer-causing gas. Sterigenics never informed the public that it was emitting ethylene oxide or the life-threatening risks of inhaling this gas.

As a result, Willowbrook has the highest cancer risk in Illinois, and the 19th-highest in the U.S. According to 2018 air samples, Willowbrook residents’ cancer risk 64 times higher than the EPA’s acceptable limits.

Residents and families of people diagnosed with cancer in the last 30 years are, justly, angry. They have started filing claims against Sterigenics for the decades of medical bills, lost wages, lost loved ones, and deception they have suffered.

We are representing many of these victims. Contact us today at 800-794-0444 or email us at for more information.


National Cancer Institute page on ethylene oxide - here

Occupational Safety and Health Administration ethylene oxide overview - here

August 2018 report “Evaluation of Potential Health Impacts from Ethylene Oxide Emissions” at Sterigenics International, Inc. in Willowbrook, Illinois, by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry Division of Community Health Investigations - here

EPA ethylene oxide document - here