Woman alleging fumes from Willowbrook company Sterigenics caused her breast cancer testifies in court

Sue Kamuda said she had no history of breast cancer in her family. But she did love spending as much time as possible outside where, unbeknownst to her at the time, she breathed in carcinogens spewed by a nearby plant.

SHARE Woman alleging fumes from Willowbrook company Sterigenics caused her breast cancer testifies in court
The Sterigenics facility in Willowbrook has been closed since 2019. The first of more than 700 plaintiffs suing the company for emitting a cancer-causing fumes testified in court Thursday.

The Sterigenics facility in Willowbrook has been closed since 2019. The first of more than 700 plaintiffs suing the company for emitting cancer-causing fumes testified in Cook County court Thursday.

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Sue Kamuda was thrilled when she bought her home in Willowbrook in 1985.

“It was the happiest day of my life,” she said from the witness stand of a Daley Center courtroom Thursday.

She gardened, jogged, went for walks and attended her kids’ sporting events at nearby parks — she loved being outside in general.

But she had no idea that about four blocks from her home a company that sterilized medical instruments was emitting cancer-causing ethylene oxide into the air.

Kamuda said she felt a lump in her breast in 2007, was diagnosed with cancer and underwent a lumpectomy as well as radiation treatments and chemotherapy.

It wasn’t until years later when information began coming out about the cancer-causing agents that had for years been spewed into her neighborhood and surrounding communities that she made the connection between her diagnosis and Sterigenics.

Now, Kamuda, 70, is one of more than 700 plaintiffs involved in a series of lawsuits against Sterigenics. Her case is the first against the company that’s gone to trial.

She told jurors she had no family history that would make her genetically predisposed to cancer. And before being diagnosed, she lived an active, healthy lifestyle that took into account what she put in her body and the environment she lived in.

Dandelions were not shunned in her organic garden; herbicides and pesticides were.

She brought the same mentality to her job as director of buildings and grounds for a west suburban school district, which earned her praise from a local newspaper that featured a story and photo about Kamuda’s work.

Along with her husband, Skip, she raised three kids in Willowbrook.

She’s now a grandparent and says she can do everything she did before she had cancer, but she can’t do them as long because she gets exhausted.

Jurors on Thursday were shown a picture of Kamuda’s lumpectomy scar. The moment gave her pause because no one had ever seen the scar apart from her doctor.

She told jurors she wore a wig when her hair fell out during chemotherapy. She hated it because it was itchy but endured it because she didn’t want people to feel sorry for her.

Kamuda said to this day she’s left with a sense of “vulnerability” from having breast cancer, an experience that shattered a sense of being “bulletproof.”

In 2019, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency shut down the facility after air quality monitoring recorded spikes of the gas ethylene oxide in surrounding neighborhoods.

Attorneys representing Sterigenics plan to argue that the company is not responsible for Kamuda’s breast cancer, which is a common diagnosis that could have originated from a variety of environmental factors.

Defense attorneys on Thursday pointed out the presence of a helipad near Kamuda’s home, as well as its proximity to a busy highway.

The trial, which began Aug. 18, is expected to last at least another week.

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