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Capitol Briefs: State Fair sets record; jury awards $363 million in Sterigenics lawsuit

The Illinois State Fairgrounds are pictured in 2021.

SPRINGFIELD – The 2022 Illinois State Fair set an all-time attendance record with more than 636,700 visitors.

Weekend attendance increased by 95,000 from one year ago. Attendance topped 2021 overall by more than 160,000 and 2019 by more than 127,000. There was no fair in 2020 for the first time since World War II due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2022 fair brought in $6.4 million in estimated revenue, which could be amended upward as more vendors report earnings, according to a news release. As it stands, it’s just off a record of $6.5 million set in 2019.

Grandstand events brought in $2.3 million in revenue, up from the previous record of $2.2 million. There were 48,104 grandstand tickets sold, putting this year’s events fourth out of the past five in ticket sales.

“We were blessed with 11 days of great weather, which meant large crowds and even larger smiles for our fairgoers,” Illinois State Fair Manager Rebecca Clark said in a news release. “While it is great to have these amazing numbers, it was even better seeing so many people enjoying the Illinois State Fair.”

The news release noted $58.1 million in construction at the fairgrounds will pick back up with the fair concluded. The renovations are funded by the state’s Rebuild Illinois capital infrastructure program, including $8.6 million in work on the multipurpose arena, which was closed this year due to the renovations.

The 122-year-old coliseum at the fairgrounds saw renovations for its structural integrity in 2019, while Phase 2 construction at the facility will include $16.3 million in electrical and plumbing work, as well as the addition of an elevator and an HVAC system among other construction.

Department of Agriculture Director Jerry Costello said before the fair the HVAC system will allow for year-round use of the coliseum, which could mean an expansion of dog shows or other events. In 2025, the fairgrounds will host the World Clydesdale Show.

STERIGENICS VERDICT: A Cook County jury this week awarded 70-year-old Sue Kamuda with a $363 million verdict after she sued medical supply sterilization company Sterigenics, alleging the company exposed her and surrounding residents to a known carcinogen that led to her breast cancer diagnosis.  

Sterigenics used the cancer-causing chemical ethylene oxide to sterilize medical supplies at its facility in Willowbrook for decades. Kamuda sued the company as well as its corporate parent and a corporate predecessor, and hers was the first of more than 760 lawsuits against the company to reach a verdict.

In August 2018, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a federal agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, reported in a letter there was an “elevated cancer risk” for anyone who lives near or works in the facility.

The plant was shuttered by the Illinois EPA in 2019 before ultimately shutting down permanently amid public pressure. It had been in operation since 1985.

State Sen. John Curran, a Downers Grove Republican, was one of the first lawmakers to raise alarms about Sterigenics. He called the verdict “astounding” and said it “puts facilities that deal with potentially harmful chemicals on notice.”

“This is just the first of 762 cases that are currently pending against Sterigenics, and the size of this verdict validates the belief that the cancer cluster in the Willowbrook area is a direct result of toxins released into the atmosphere by Sterigenics,” Curran said in a statement. “What we suspected all along, and what has now been found by a jury, is that Sterigenics was a bad actor that turned a blind eye to the fact that they were slowly poisoning the residents who lived in the vicinity of their facility.” 

In response to the elevated cancer risk surrounding the facility, Illinois lawmakers passed legislation strictly limiting allowable ethylene oxide emissions and mandating shutdowns for companies that fail annual emissions tests.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported the company argued that the verdict didn’t reflect the evidence presented in court.

“We will continue to vigorously defend against allegations about our ethylene oxide operations and emissions,” a Sterigenics spokesperson told the newspaper. “As we have consistently done throughout our history, we will continue to operate in compliance with applicable rules and regulations to ensure the safety of our employees, the communities in which we operate and patients around the world.”

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Capitol News Illinois

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit news service operated by the Illinois Press Foundation that provides coverage of state government to newspapers throughout Illinois. It is funded by donations from the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation. The mission of Capitol News Illinois is to provide credible and unbiased coverage of state government. Capitol News Illinois provides year-round, daily coverage of the Legislature, including committee hearings; state agencies and issues; state office holders; and the Illinois Supreme Court and legal matters.

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Severe storms possible Thursday evening and overnight

From the National Weather Service in Central Illinois: A line of t’storms will affect the area late Thursday afternoon into the overnight hours. Some severe storms are in the forecast, with damaging wind gusts and large hail. Stay weather aware and be ready to take shelter when storms approach.