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Workers Sue Medical Device Maker Over Ethylene Oxide Exposure

May 22, 2020, 7:28 PM

A group representing warehouse workers in Georgia is suing to recover damages for alleged exposure to unsafe levels of ethylene oxide, a toxic gas used to sterilize medical equipment.

The employees and survivors of former employees of ConMed Corp. filed this complaint complaint this week against ConMed; medical-device sterilization company Sterigenics, U.S., LLC; and its parent company, Sotera Health, LLC.

The employees of ConMed’s medical-equipment distribution warehouse were exposed to dangerous levels of ethylene oxide gas for “a significant period of time without their knowledge,” according to the complaint.

The workers unloaded and handled medical equipment received from a Sterigenics sterilization facility located in Cobb County, Ga., from 2010 to April 26, 2019, according to the lawsuit.

ConMed failed to inform the warehouse workers that ethylene oxide levels at the Lithia Springs, Ga. facility at times exceeded permissible exposure limits set by national and international standards, the plaintiffs alleged.

The workers suffered a range of injuries including “deaths, cancer, tumors, increased risk and or fear of cancer, respiratory, pulmonary, epidermal, hematological, cardiological, neurological, and other serious medical conditions,” according to the lawsuit.

‘Baseless’ Allegations

Sterigenics, in a statement, said the neither the company nor its employees caused any injury to the plaintiffs.

“The allegations asserted in this lawsuit against Sotera Health, Sterigenics and Sterigenics’ employees are baseless, and we will vigorously defend against them,” the company said Friday.

Roughly 50% of medical devices that require sterilization are cleaned using ethylene oxide, according to Sterigenics’ statement.

ConMed didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Last year, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited and fined ConMed for exposing workers to elevated levels of ethylene oxide and failing to notify employees of their exposure and lacking safety protocols. The company later reached a settlement with the agency, the terms of which weren’t immediately available.

Ethylene oxide gas is found naturally in ambient air, according to the Centers for Disease Control, but prolonged exposure to higher concentrations can cause irritation of the eyes, skin, throat, and lungs, and damage to the brain.

Causes of Action: Negligence, breach of duties of ordinary care, wrongful death

Relief: Special, general, and punitive damages

Attorneys: Eric J. Hurtz, PC; Link & Smith, PC; Moore Injury Law, LLC; and Jeffrey E. Gewirtz are representing the plaintiffs.

The case is: Alexander v. Stergenics U.S., Ga. State Ct., No. 20-A-1645, complaint filed 5/19/20.

To contact the reporter on this story: Adam Allington in Washington at aallington@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergindustry.com; Rebecca Baker at rbaker@bloombergindustry.com

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