Ethylene oxide Cardinal Health

[Image from U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration]

Nearly two dozen people who have lived in the Augusta, Ga. area are suing Cardinal Health subsidiary Kendall Patient Recovery U.S. over ethylene oxide emissions from a medical device sterilization plant in the city.

The people suing KPR U.S. in U.S. District Court in Southern Georgia lived and worked within miles of the Augusta facility over the decades and claim that they never had any notice that they were inhaling air that was potentially endangering their health. Industrial users of EtO, according to the plaintiffs’ lawyers, knew of EtO’s potential dangers by the early 1980s. (The EPA classified ethylene oxide as a human carcinogen in December 2016.)

The people suing KPR U.S. suffered a host of cancers, including breast cancer, B-cell lymphoma, ovarian cancer and colon cancer — as well as miscarriages. In a separately filed lawsuit, the decedent of Eunice Lambert is suing over her death from leukemia in 2015.

EPA data that the plaintiffs’ lawyers list in their lawsuit actually shows that KPR greatly reduced its EtO emissions in the 2010s, but they were much higher in previous decades.

“As a result, and unbeknownst to them, individuals living and working near the KPR facility face some of the highest long-term cancer risks in the United States. These individuals have been unknowingly inhaling ethylene oxide on a routine and continuous basis for decades. Now they are suffering from a variety of cancers, miscarriages, birth defects, and other life-altering health effects from their continuous exposure to ethylene oxide,” wrote lawyers Charles C. Bailey of Cook & Connelly in Atlanta and Benjamin H. Richman and Michael Ovca of Edelson in Chicago.

Cardinal Health could not be immediately reached for comment. The story may be updated.