| Read Time: 4 minutes | Environmental Laws
Can EtO Exposure Result in Death

Ethylene oxide (EtO) is used as a sterilizing agent in various industries and processes, including in the sterilization of medical equipment. Some manufacturers also use it to make ethylene glycol, which is in antifreeze and polyester. Workers at certain plants that produce EtO are at risk of exposure which can result in harmful side effects. If you or someone you love was exposed to EtO in Georgia, it’s crucial to contact a skilled Georgia personal injury lawyer immediately.

At MG Law, we fight for the rights of injured victims in Georgia. Exposure to EtO can cause harmful side effects, especially with long-term exposure. If someone else is responsible for your injuries, you could have the right to file a lawsuit against them. Contact our office and let us answer all of your questions about EtO exposure.

EtO, or ethylene oxide, is a flammable gas that has a slightly sweet odor. Numerous products use EtO, including:

  • Solvents,
  • Detergents,
  • Textiles,
  • Polyurethane foam, and
  • Adhesives.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), small amounts might be used as a fumigant, a sterilant for food-grade spices, and in cosmetics.

How Exposure to Ethylene Oxide Happens

Workers employed at certain types of manufacturing or processing plants have an increased risk of being exposed to EtO. These occupational groups include workers in ethylene oxide plants, fumigation workers, and sterilization technicians. Industrial EtO exposure occurs in several different ways. One of the most common ways workers are exposed occurs when industrial companies release EtO into the air, including from uncontrolled emissions and venting with other gasses. Another common way exposure occurs is when ethylene oxide is released when being used as a medical equipment sterilizer or in commodity-fumigated materials. Unsuspecting members of the general population might also be exposed when breathing contaminated air.

What Are the Potential Side Effects of EtO?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people exposed to EtO might develop the following symptoms:

  • Headaches,
  • Stomach issues,
  • Vomiting,
  • Diarrhea,
  • Feeling tired and weak,
  • Becoming sleepy,
  • Breathing issues,
  • Skin burns,
  • Eye burns,
  • Frostbite, and
  • Developing reproductive problems.

Many industries use ethylene oxide, but it can cause harm to workers exposed to it, especially over time. The potential damage and health risks depend on how much ethylene oxide exposure someone experiences, how long the exposure lasts, and what the worker was doing at the time of exposure.

For example, short-term EtO exposure can cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or lung irritation. If you have a splash injury, you could suffer cornea damage if the EtO gets into your eyes. Dermal EtO exposure could result in skin irritation and chemical burns. Long-term exposure could result in neurotoxicity, seizures, loss of control of bodily movements, cancer, and other serious health conditions.  

Can EtO Exposure Result in Death?

Yes, exposure to EtO could eventually result in death. At least three deaths are attributed to exposure to ethylene oxide at the B. Braun plant in southeastern Pennsylvania. Some workers and residents who suffered long-term exposure have developed blood cancer and other life-threatening illnesses, sparking multiple lawsuits.

It’s believed that an EPA study published in 2016 shows the dangers and potential cancer-causing risks of EtO are significantly higher than previously thought. However, the agency didn’t release any stricter emission standards that would better protect workers and unsuspecting residents in the areas surrounding EtO plants.

If a family member dies from complications of exposure to EtO, your family might have legal rights. Certain family members might be eligible to collect compensation in a wrongful death lawsuit against the responsible parties. When you suspect you or someone you love has been exposed to EtO, MG Law can help.

Litigation Involving EtO Exposure

Multiple victims have come together to sue companies involved in EtO exposure. Illinois-based Sterigenics is facing hundreds of lawsuits connected to high EtO emissions. The first verdict from one of these lawsuits was handed down in 2022 and included a punitive damages award of $325 million and $38 million in compensatory damages.  

What to Do If You’re a Victim of EtO Exposure

If you are the victim of ethylene oxide exposure, you could have the right to bring a claim for damages. It’s imperative to contact a Georgia personal injury lawyer right away. These types of cases are complex, and you need a skilled legal advocate on your side. When you contact our office, please have some key information ready, including the following: 

  • Please jot down the date range of your EtO exposure;
  • Tell us the location where the exposure happened; and
  • What you were diagnosed with, and when.

We will review your case and discuss legal options. If we believe you have a case, we can file a lawsuit on your behalf so that you can hold every company and entity responsible for your illness accountable. Causes of action for EtO exposure include the following:

  • Negligence,
  • Defective design,
  • Strict liability, and
  • Failure to warn.

When you retain MG Law, we’ll handle all the legal aspects of your claim so you can focus on your treatment and spending time with your family. That means our team will request your medical records, handle all communication with the defendants’ attorneys, and make sure you meet important filing deadlines.

Potential Compensation for Ethylene Oxide Exposure

Recoverable compensation in these cases will vary depending on your circumstances. In general, your damages can likely include the following:

  • Medical treatment expenses,
  • Future medical expenses,
  • Loss of earnings,
  • Future loss of earning capacity, and
  • Pain and suffering.

Your attorney will discuss what compensation you’re eligible to receive and how best to build a case that supports your claim for damages. In these types of cases, there’s a chance the court might award punitive damages as well. In Georgia, punitive damages might be awarded when you can establish through clear and convincing evidence that the defendant’s actions constituted malice, fraud, willful misconduct, oppression, wantonness, or that the entire want of care raises the presumption of conscious indifference to any consequences.

Contact A Georgia Personal Injury Lawyer

If you or a family member suffered exposure to EtO and developed cancer or another illness, please contact the legal team at MG Law today. Toxic tort litigation is complex. Hiring an experienced law firm with the skills and resources to take your case to trial gives you the best chance of succeeding. At MG Law, we are not afraid to stand up to these companies and their legal teams. We have a reputation for success and will fight tirelessly to protect your rights. Schedule an initial consultation today and learn more about how we can help you following toxic EtO exposure.

Author Photo

Michael Geoffroy’s law practice focuses on auto collisions, premises liability, wrongful death, and catastrophic injury, and he stands up for the cause of justice throughout Georgia and on behalf of his clients every day. He is a leader in both the courtroom and the community, having been recognized numerous times for his involvement in each.