CHICAGO (CBS) – He was battling cancer and struggling to get the message out about a dangerous chemical coming from a plant near his home. Matt Haller lost the battle against cancer, but before he died, he wanted to share a message with CBS 2’s Dave Savini.
Matt and Savini first met in January.
When Savini learned that Matt came into Hospice Care last week, he came by to say goodbye.
But Matt wanted to see the camera to do one last interview about his struggle and the community he loved.
He spent time with his cousin, remembering what it was – years of ski trips that made them fly high, especially Matt, who dominated the slopes, and just a year ago, when Matt managed to take another guy’s trip to Utah, even after starting chemotherapy for stomach cancer.
“The barrel is empty and there’s not much left,” Matt said. “But I will fight, and I will fight, and I will fight.”
In pictures of Matt before the cancer ravaged him, he is full of life and thinking about his future.
“I’m down to a hundred pounds,” he told Savini. “I have lost nearly a hundred pounds.”
When Savini first met Matt in January, he was on chemotherapy. He wanted to resign because he was worried that his cancer could be caused by ethylene oxide from the sterilization company Sterigenics.
“To think that this company could literally have been behind my death is shocking,” he said. “It’s completely shocking.”
Matt fought for more public oversight of ethylene oxide emissions while fighting to live longer and create a few memories with his wife, Colleen, and son, Cullen.
“My son is four years old and you’re really wondering if he’s going to remember me?” said Matt. “I will not be able to teach him to play hockey. As much loss as you know, when you look ahead, you just see loss.”
Two months after that interview, he wanted to do one last interview, even though he knew it was hard to see him this way. Though his body failed, his spirit was full and his mind was clear.
He said the nurses were just trying to keep him comfortable.
“Now it’s about easing into, you know, the unknown,” he said.
Questions about Matt’s disease and links to ethylene oxide go back some 35 years.
CBS 2 Investigators received a 1984 letter written by the Illinois EPA. It warns the company’s predecessor, Griffith Laboratories, of cancers associated with ethylene oxide, and lists cancers of the pancreas, bladder, brain, central nervous system and stomach.
“Everything has to be revealed here. Everything has to be revealed,” Matt said.
He shared his story in hopes that someone would listen and investigate the cancer cases in his community, Willowbrook, where he lived for nine years.
“Well, my fight has been all about whistleblowers,” he said.
He wants more whistleblowers to emerge as two former Sterigenics employees who spoke exclusively to CBS 2, claiming that the EPA did not know the actual amount of ethylene oxide released by the company.
One of the former employees told CBS 2 that he believes the company sent far more out of the stacks and openings and out of the doors than was ever reported to the EPA. “Absolutely,” he said.
“It’s hard because I worked there. It’s hard to sleep at night,” said the other former employee.
Matt said seeing the whistleblowers emerge “was like a dream come true.”
“I could not be happier,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about for me now. Whistleblowers, whistleblowers, come forward. Tell your story. Tell us what you know and let’s fight. Let’s fight this for the community. Please.”
Matt, who spoke earlier this year, got a third former Sterigenics employee to step forward.
“I’m feeling bad, like when I found out he’s dying of cancer and he’s leaving his four-year-old son. It hurt me the most,” Mike Morales said.
Morales talked about gas leaks at the plant.
“The chambers would run different cycles,” he said. “They would leak gas many times, I swear by God.”
The moral that speaks deeply touches Matt.
“Thanks for the whistleblower that came out because you made a real difference,” Matt said.
He also hopes that more will come forward.
“God forbid that if they do what they say, what we understand, they do, and they poison this society, then they have to pay. And I do not mean financially. People should go to jail.” said Matt.
Last month, the state EPA placed a sealing order on the company that prevented it from using ethylene oxide.
“I was overwhelmed,” Matt said. “I could not have been happier.”
When Savini and Matt said goodbye to each other, Matt wanted to remind Savini of others who are sick.
And since lawsuits have been filed by members of the community, he wanted to express his concern that ethylene oxide might be causing cancer in the community.
He would remember people like Katherine Howard who have stomach cancer; Jana Conev and Jeanne Hochhalter, who have breast cancer; Petko Conev, who has bladder cancer; and Julian Glick, who has leukemia.
Matt would push to get the answers to continue.
“They’re going to fight to reopen, so we have to keep fighting,” Matt said of Sterigenics.
Sterigenics has rejected claims from the former workers and has said they operate well within regulatory limits.
Last Saturday, a day and a half after Matt and Savini said it together, Matt Haller lost his cancer battle.
This makes him the first plaintiff to die after suing Sterigenics.
He was 45 years old.
A GoFundMe page has been created to support the Haller family.