Sterigenics plants in Smyrna and Covington, Georgia, have long used ethylene oxide in sterilization of medical equipment. The Environmental Protection Agency air assessment from last year found several census tracts around those plants had significantly increased cancer risks due to ethylene oxide. The EPA recently concluded that the gas is dangerous at lower levels than previously believed.
Ethylene oxide is an organic compound with the formula C2H4O. A colorless and flammable gas with a faintly sweet odor, it has many uses in industry but is not safe for household use. At room temperature it is a flammable, carcinogenic, mutagenic, irritating, and anaesthetic gas.
There is evidence from both human and animal studies that inhalation exposure to ethylene oxide can result in a wide range of carcinogenic effects. The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies ethylene oxide into group 1, meaning it is a proven carcinogen. Ethylene oxide is classified as a class 2 carcinogen by the German MAK commission and as a class A2 carcinogen by the ACGIH. A 2003 study of women exposed to the chemical while working in commercial sterilization facilities suggests ethylene oxide is associated with breast cancer incidence.
In 2015, Sterigenics reported emissions ethylene oxide from its Smyrna plant of 3,574 pounds. After federal regulators definitively linked ethylene oxide to cancer in humans in 2016, the company’s self-reported emissions of the chemical dropped to 226 pounds.
Due to past emissions data submitted by Sterigenics, t the federal Environmental Protection Agency to project an elevated risk of cancer in surrounding neighborhoods. Similar cancer clusters were reported near a Sterigenics plant in the Chicago area.
All cases involving cancer allegedly caused by chemical exposures are highly complex and involved an enormous amount of scientific analysis and expert witness testimony. These are not intersection collision cases.
We have begun to sign up Sterigenics cancer cases as victims and their survivors from the neighborhoods surrounding these plants have contacted us. As with any case involving complex science, we work with an experienced team to properly analyze and develop the scientific and medical evidence.
Ken Shigley is a 2019 recipient of the “Tradition of Excellence” Award from the State Bar of Georgia General Practice & Trial Section.
Mr. Shigley is the first Georgia lawyer to earn three national board certifications in his practice area from the National Board of Trial Advocacy – in Civil Trial Law, Civil Practice Law and Truck Accident Law. He is a board member of the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys, and former chair of the American Association for Justice Motor Vehicle Collision, Highway & Premises Liability Section, which includes the Trucking Litigation Group.
He is lead author of Georgia Law of Torts: Trial Preparation and Practice, now in its tenth annual edition with Thomson Reuters West. His law practice is focused on catastrophic injury and wrongful death including those arising from commercial trucking accidents and those involving brain, neck, back, spinal cord, amputation and burn injuries.
In 2011-12, Mr. Shigley was president of the State Bar of Georgia, which includes all the lawyers and judges in Georgia. He also is a former chair of the Institute for Legal Education in Georgia (board member 2008-2019, chair 2012-13), State Bar of Georgia Tort & Insurance Practice Section (1994-95), and the Georgia Insurance Law Institute (1994).
A former prosecutor and former insurance defense lawyer, Mr. Shigley is a graduate of Furman University and Emory University Law School. He is a widower, father of two adult children, and an elder in his church.