CHICAGO (CBS) — He battled cancer and fought to get the word out about a dangerous chemical coming from a plant near his home. Matt Haller lost his fight 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 Matt entered Hospice Care last week, he stopped by to say goodbye.
But Matt wanted to go on camera, to do one final interview about his fight and the community he loved.
He spent time with his cousin, reminiscing about what was — years of ski trips that had them flying high, especially Matt, who dominated the slopes, and just a year ago when Matt managed to make one more guys’ trip to Utah even after starting chemo treatment for stomach cancer.
“The barrel is empty, and there’s not much left,” Matt said. “But I’m going to fight, and I’m going to fight, and I’m going to fight.”
In pictures of Matt before cancer ravaged him, he is full of life and thinking about his future.
“I’m down to a hundred pounds,” he told Savini. “I’ve lost almost a hundred pounds.”
When Savini first met Matt in January, he was undergoing chemotherapy. He wanted to speak out because he was concerned his cancer may have been caused by ethylene oxide from the medical supply sterilization company, Sterigenics.
“To think this company could have literally been behind my death is shocking,” he said. “It’s utterly shocking.”
Matt fought for more government oversight into ethylene oxide emissions while he struggled to live longer and create a few more memories with his wife, Colleen, and son, Cullen.
“My son is four years old, and you really wonder, is he going to remember me?” Matt said. “I’m not going to be able to teach him to play hockey. So much loss, you know, when you look forward, you just see loss.”
Two months after that interview, he wanted to do one more final interview even though he knew it was hard to see him this way. Though his body was failing, his spirit was full, and his mind was clear.
He said nurses were just trying to keep him comfortable.
“Now it’s all about easing into, you know, the unknown,” he said.
Questions about Matt’s illness and links to to ethylene oxide, in part, date back 35 years.
The CBS 2 Investigators obtained a 1984 letter written by the Illinois EPA. It warns the company’s predecessor, Griffith Laboratories, of cancer dangers associated with ethylene oxide, listing cancers of the pancreas, bladder, brain, central nervous system and stomach.
“Everything needs to be uncovered here. Everything needs to be uncovered,” Matt said.
He shared his story hoping someone would listen and investigate the cancer cases in his community, Willowbrook, where he lived for nine years.
“Well, my fight has become all about whistleblowers,” he said.
He wants more whistleblowers to come forward like two former Sterigenics employees, who spoke exclusively to CBS 2, claiming the EPA did not know the actual amount of ethylene oxide released by the company.
One of the former employees told CBS 2 he believes the company was sending way more out the stacks and vents and out the doors than was ever reported to the EPA. “Definitely,” he said.
“It’s hard because I worked there. It’s hard to sleep at night,” the other former employee said.
Matt said seeing the whistleblowers come forward “was like a dream come true.”
“I couldn’t be happier,” he said. “It’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 speaking out earlier this year prompted a third former Sterigenics worker to come forward.
“I feel bad like when I found out about the one who’s dying of cancer, and he’s leaving his four-year-old son. That hurt me the most,” Mike Morales said.
Morales spoke about gas leaks at the facility.
“The chambers would run different cycles,” he said. “They would leak gas a lot of times, I swear to God.”
Morales speaking deeply touch Matt.
“Thank you for that whistleblower that came forward because you made a real difference,” Matt said.
He hopes more will come forward, too.
“God forbid if they’re doing what they say, what we understand they’re doing, and they’re poisoning this community, then they need to pay. And I don’t mean monetarily. People should be going to jail,” Matt said.
Last month, the state EPA put a seal order on the company, preventing it from using ethylene oxide.
“I was exuberant,” Matt said. “I couldn’t have been happier.”
As Savini and Matt said goodbye to each other, Matt wanted to remind Savini of others who are sick.
And as lawsuits have been filed by community members, he wanted to express his concern about ethylene oxide possibly causing cancers in the community.
He wanted to remember people like Katherine Howard, who has stomach cancer; Jana Conev and Jeanne Hochhalter, who have breast cancer; Petko Conev, who has bladder cancer; and Julian Glick, who has leukemia.
Matt wanted to push for answers to continue.
“They’re going to fight to open again, so we have to continue to fight,” Matt said of Sterigenics.
Sterigenics has denied claims made by the former workers and has said they operate well within regulatory limits.
Last Saturday, a day and a half after Matt and Savini said down together, Matt Haller lost his cancer battle.
This makes him the first litigant to pass away after filing a lawsuit against Sterigenics.
He was 45 years old.
A GoFundMe page has been created to support the Haller family.