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Illinois State Health Department Report Shows Higher Than Normal Number Of Cancer Cases Near Sterigenics

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A new report from the state health department revealed a higher than normal number of cases of several cancer types for people living near the Sterigenics plant in Willowbrook.

It's a story 2 Investigator Dave Savini has been digging into for months.

"The conclusions they reached are alarming," Senator Dick Durbin said of the data showing higher cancer rates in the study area where air samples have been taken.

They're the same cancers several women have, including Heather Schumacher, who has Hodgkin's lymphoma.

"There is life with cancer and after cancer," Schumacher said in a video outlining her cancer treatment at Northwestern Medicine. "I've lost my hair four times. I've been hospitalized four times for, you know, weeks on end."

The Illinois Department of Public Health found the number of Hodgkin's lymphoma cases in women living in the study area was 90 percent more than expected.

"They have found in that area a significant increase in cancers related to ethylene oxide, which is the dangerous, carcinogenic gas released by the Sterigenics facility," Durbin said.

Schumacher is the first named litigant in a federal lawsuit against Sterigenics and lived just blocks from the facility that for three decades used ethylene oxide to sterilize medical supplies.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency stopped the company from using the gas in February after elevated levels were detected during air testing.

"There have been real health effects that are likely to be attributed to ethylene oxide," U.S. Rep. Bill Foster said.

Jean Hochhalter has breast cancer. She lived a mile away from the plant.

Jana Conev ran a home daycare just a few blocks away from Sterigenics. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015.

The state study shows breast cancer for women was 10 percent higher than in all the collar counties, with the highest levels in women closest to the company.

"I was sicker and sicker and sicker," Conev said. "Out of my four neighbors directly across the street, four households, three of them have breast cancer. That's not a coincidence."

"My heart breaks for the families that have been burdened with the uncertainty with the stress and anxiety of living next to this facility in and around it," said DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin.

And other cancers diagnosed at higher rates include men having prostate cancer like Petko Conev and females with pancreatic cancer.

TJ Kelliher's wife, Eva, died of pancreatic cancer.

"It was a very vicious, vicious cancer," he said. "Very painful."

This was the first study of its kind in the country, but scientists are recommending that further research is needed here in Illinois and across the country to fully determine dangers associated with ethylene oxide.

Sterigenics has always maintained that it followed all the rules and regulations pertaining to ethylene oxide emissions and late Friday said the new report has inconsistencies.

Here is the full statement from the company regarding the report:

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