South Memphis Residents Seek Justice for Toxic Chemical Exposure

South Memphis residents gathered for a town hall meeting to discuss a class action lawsuit against Sterilization Services of Tennessee, which released cancer-causing ethylene oxide into the air for decades. The lawsuit alleges gross negligence, nuisance, and wrongful death, citing severe injuries and cancers linked to the chemical exposure.

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Bijay Laxmi
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South Memphis Residents Seek Justice for Toxic Chemical Exposure

South Memphis Residents Seek Justice for Toxic Chemical Exposure

South Memphis residents gathered at a town hall meeting on May 11, 2024, to discuss a class action lawsuit against Sterilization Services of Tennessee, a facility that released cancer-causing ethylene oxide (EtO) into the air for decades. The meeting, hosted by attorneys from Napoli Shkolnik Law and Wampler, Carroll, Wilson & Sanderson, invited Memphians to sign up for the lawsuit filed in February.

Why this matters: The exposure to toxic chemicals in South Memphis highlights the ongoing environmental justice crisis in the United States, where marginalized communities are disproportionately affected by pollution. If successful, this lawsuit could set a precedent for holding corporations accountable for environmental negligence and spark broader change in the way we regulate and monitortoxic substances.

The lawsuit claims multiple offenses, including gross negligence, private and public nuisance, and wrongful death. It alleges that exposure to the poisoned air has caused severe injuries, such as miscarriages, birth defects, brain cancer, blood cancer, stomach cancer, lymphoma, leukemia, and breast cancer. Dozens of residents attended the meeting, seeking answers for years of illness they believe may be tied to the chemical release.

Lee Wilkins, a South Memphis resident who grew up near the plant, shared his personal experience: "I've had cancer, colon cancer. Not only that, but my nephew Ricky Wilkins has deceased in the past few weeks, had brain cancer." Wilkins and his family members believe that the chemical release is responsible for their cancer diagnoses.

Sterilization Services of Tennessee, located at 2396 Florida Street in South Memphis, used EtO to sterilize medical equipment since 1979. Although considered safe and legal for years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently listed EtO as a dangerous chemical that can cause cancer. The company closed its operations just a few weeks ago, but the chemical is still present in the air and is expected to clear out by September.

Luke Sanderson of Wampler, Carroll, Wilson & Sanderson stated, "We definitely believe that it's strongly more likely than not that this is the cause of these cancers that we've discussed if they're in this area." The legal panel also mentioned that this will be the first time the toxin has not been in the air since the 1970s.

The town hall meeting marks a significant step for the South Memphis community in their fight for environmental justice. As the class action lawsuit moves forward, residents hope to hold Sterilization Services of Tennessee accountable for the devastating impact of the toxic chemical release on their health and lives.

Key Takeaways

  • South Memphis residents gather for town hall meeting to discuss class action lawsuit against Sterilization Services of Tennessee.
  • Lawsuit alleges decades of toxic ethylene oxide (EtO) release, causing cancer and other health issues.
  • Residents claim exposure led to miscarriages, birth defects, and various types of cancer.
  • Sterilization Services of Tennessee closed operations, but EtO still present in air, expected to clear by September.
  • Lawsuit aims to hold company accountable, potentially setting precedent for environmental justice cases.