Rob Stafford, the veteran news anchor at NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5, said he contracted a rare blood disorder after he was exposed to toxic chemicals emitted by the west suburban Willowbrook facility of Sterigenics International.
In a lawsuit filed Friday in Cook County Circuit Court, Stafford, 60, said he was diagnosed with amyloidosis after exposure to toxic levels of ethylene oxide from the plant. At the time he lived in Hinsdale and belonged to a sports club in Burr Ridge. Sterigenics’ sterilization process was found to have resulted in ethylene oxide emission, causing exposure in portions of Burr Ridge and Hinsdale.
In 2017 Stafford took a six-month leave of absence from NBC 5 to undergo a bone marrow transplant and chemotherapy.
Stafford’s lawsuit alleges negligence, willful and wanton conduct and ultra-hazardous activity, saying the defendants “had the ability to regulate the emissions of ethylene oxide” but instead failed to warn the public of the risk of their health, according to NBC 5’s website, which first broke the story. His was one of 32 similar lawsuits filed last week against Sterigenics.
In a statement Sterigenics said it “has consistently complied with applicable regulations” and intends to “vigorously defend against” the claims.
An NBC 5 spokesperson said the station does not comment about employees’ personal matters. “But I can confirm that Rob informed us about his intentions to file a lawsuit a couple of months ago,” the spokesperson added. “Since then, Rob has not been assigned to report on, or read, any stories involving Sterigenics. This practice will remain in place.”
Stafford’s lawsuit seeks more than $50,000 in damages.
A New Hampshire native and graduate of Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, Stafford began his career in Duluth, Minnesota, and later worked for stations in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and Orlando, Florida, before joining CBS-owned WBBM-Channel 2 in 1992. He was hired as a Chicago-based correspondent for the NBC News magazine “Dateline” in 1996.
Since 2007 Stafford has been an anchor and reporter for NBC 5. He was promoted to main co-anchor with Allison Rosati in 2009. He also serves on the station’s investigative reporting team.