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Jury seated, first trial set in series of lawsuits against Sterigenics

First trial against Sterigenics set to begin
First trial against Sterigenics set to begin 02:57

CHICAGO (CBS) – It's a big day in court on Thursday in a case the CBS 2 Investigators have been exposing for years; the case against Sterigenics.

Hundreds of people have accused the medical sterilization plant of knowingly releasing a toxic chemical into the air at its Willowbrook plant.

Sue Kamuda is the first of more than 700 plaintiffs to finally get their day in court against Sterigenics. The 70-year-old breast cancer survivor claims the medical device sterilization company emitted a cancer-causing toxin – ethylene oxide – into the surrounding community for decades.

The company moved out its Willowbrook plant in 2019, after mounting public pressure. A jury will now decide if Sterigenics is to blame for causing Kamuda's cancer.

The CBS 2 Investigators spent years digging into Sterigenics, uncovering whistleblowers, and listening to all the people who lived near the plant suffering from illnesses and diseases; people like Matt Haller, who ultimately died of stomach cancer.

"To just think to wake up one day that this company could have been literally behind my death is shocking. It's utterly shocking," he said in a 2019 interview.

CBS 2 Vault: Inside the CBS 2 Investigators' years-long probe of Sterigenics 30:25

Heather Schumacher, who has Hogdkins lymphoma, is another person suing Sterigenics. She lived just blocks from the Willowbrook facility that used ethylene oxide for three decades.

"My biggest fear is that I will not be around to see my children one day," she said in 2019.

Ivan Harrison's daughter, Yasmeen, is also a plaintiff on the waiting list for a trial.

"When she was 2, she was initially diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia," he said. "It was very surprising to me that a company that was emitting that kind of chemical could even be in an area this residential. I just didn't, couldn't even believe how that could happen."

Julian Glick, who also was diagnosed with leukemia, will also have to wait for his day in court, because for now each case is being tried is separately.

"Every time I went to the hospital, I just had a terrible feeling in my stomach, like I don't know if I'm going to come back. I thought I was going to die. It was a very scary feeling," Glick said.

Haller's case led to a new law putting limits on the amount of ethylene oxide a company can emit in Illinois, but he didn't live long enough to see the law pass or to see his day in court.

"Everything needs to be uncovered here. Everything," he told CBS 2 in 2019. "My son is 4 years old, and you really wonder is he going to remember me? I'm not going be able to teach him to play hockey, and you know so much loss. When you look forward, you just see loss."

Haller died shortly after that interview.

Sterigenics has stated it followed all guidelines. Now a jury will decide if the company is responsible for Sue Kamuda's case. Her 50-year-old son, Brian, who also lived near the plant, suffers from lymphoma, a form of cancer. There is no word yet on when his case will go to trial.

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