When the Willowbrook branch of Sterigenics was closed down this past February, it was the culmination of much hard work, research, and litigation initiated by those aware of the health dangers of ethylene oxide, the gas the company has been releasing into the atmosphere since it began operations in 1985. (This article gives an excellent summary of just how much ethylene oxide Sterigenics released over the years as well as its risks.) For many of us, however, we had little understanding of the dangers to which we had been exposed over the decades. My wife and I, for example, didn’t know the risks we were taking simply by going to work every day.
My wife started teaching physical education at Hinsdale South High School in 1982, and I joined her on staff in the English Department as of 1987. South is about a mile from the Sterigenics facility, and was thus subjected to its pollution over the years. And so were all the people who worked there.
We were married in 1995, and both being 38 at the time, immediately began our efforts to have a family. Our attempts were thwarted, however, by two miscarriages and the premature birth/death of our daughter, Lydia, from 1996 to 1997. Ethylene oxide has been shown to increase the likelihood of miscarriage and premature births.
Having moved on from biological reproduction, we adopted two beautiful daughters in 1998 and 2001, and began the joyous adventure of raising them. This progression was interrupted, however, by my wife’s breast cancer and subsequent surgeries and chemo-therapy, which took place during 2002-2004. Ethylene oxide has been shown to increase the incidence of breast cancer.
My wife recovered and has been cancer-free since 2003, despite the trauma of all that she endured from her treatments. She also retired from South, never returning after her cancer diagnosis in 2002. Our lives continued normally (whatever “normal” might be) through my retirement in 2012, with my daughters continuing their education in junior high, high school (my youngest graduates this year from Downers Grove South) and college (my eldest is currently wrapping up her junior year at Augustana College in Rock Island). Unfortunately, my skin began erupting into rashes and pustules, both randomly and in over-reactions to bug bites in 2015. After many consultations and tests, it was determined this past January that I have chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), and that my skin issues were by-products of my blood cancer. Ethylene oxide has been linked to an increase in the likelihood of lymphoma, the broad category of cancers which includes CLL.
So, from the 19 and 25 years my wife and I worked at Hinsdale South, my family has suffered through two miscarriages, one premature birth, breast cancer, and leukemia. Despite wonderful experiences teaching, an amazing collection of co-workers, and enough positive memories to last the rest of our lives; once the truth of what Sterigenics had been doing to the air we breathed every day and their understanding of just how dangerous ethylene oxide is became known, we were horrified that this could have taken place for so many years, putting tens of thousands of people at risk. Recent studies show that people living and working near the Sterigenics Willowbrook plants have a higher incidence of many cancers.
We have now joined those who are seeking to hold Sterigenics responsible as well as making sure the company never harms anyone again with its toxic pollution. We would encourage anyone who thinks he/she might have been negatively affected by Sterigenics’ continuous release of a known carcinogen into a densely populated suburb, close to several schools and hundreds of homes, to contact one of the six law firms which will be representing the victims of this disregard for our safety. To keep up to date with all the news associated with Sterigenics, Stop Sterigenics is a superior source and can be found on Facebook.
No humans should ever have to suffer ill-health simply because of where they live or work. That so many of us have is clearly a failing of corporate America and our government; we all need to redouble our efforts to ensure this kind of health disaster doesn’t happen again.