Fifty-three people who worked in an Atlanta-area warehouse that stored medical devices sterilized by ethylene oxide (EtO) filed suit this week against Sterigenics and its parent company over exposure to the gas.
The plaintiffs or their families claim that long-term EtO exposure to the sterilized devices, which they unloaded, handled, warehoused and distributed, caused multiple deaths, cancer, tumors, respiratory, pulmonary, epidermal, hematological, cardiological, neurological and other serious medical conditions. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers EtO a human carcinogen, and news of its use has sparked an outcry among residents and workers in neighborhoods surrounding EtO plants in Illinois, Michigan and Georgia.
The workers also claim that their employer, ConMed (NSDQ:CNMD), which owns the medtech distribution center in Cobb County, Ga., failed to tell them of the presence of EtO “for some period of time,” misrepresented the gas’ health dangers and lied to or misled local toxicology experts and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, thus depriving them of workers’ compensation.
They also claim that Oak Park, Ill.-based Sterigenics and certain Sterigenics employees failed to ensure that the boxes of sterilized devices had been sufficiently aerated before transport to the ConMed warehouse, and that ConMed falsely assured them that such exposure was not harmful. The lawsuit covers the period from 2010 through April 26, 2019.
In a statement to Medical Design & Outsourcing, Sterigenics said it and its employees did not cause any injury to the plaintiffs and that the allegations against Sterigenics, its employees and Sotera health “are baseless, and we will vigorously defend against them.”
“The plaintiffs are not Sterigenics employees,” the company added. “They are employed by another company and their claims relate to that company’s processes and the work those employees perform at that company’s facility. The claims do not relate to Sterigenics’ state-of-the-art emissions controls at its Atlanta facility. They also do not concern its dispute with Cobb County and its officials or Sterigenics’ right to continue its operations under the court-approved consent order.”
ConMed did not immediately respond to a request for comment.