A lawsuit has been filed against BP in Texas involving the people of Texas City. As has been reported, BP leaked toxic fumes into the community. The lawsuit filed in federal court is over an equipment malfunction at BP’s Texas City refinery that released roughly 500,000 pounds of pollutants – including high levels of benzene – into the air between April 6th and May 16th. The lawsuit, which seeks $10 billion in damages, was filed last month in the Southern District of Texas on behalf of refinery workers and residents who claim that BP did not inform city officials of the “scale of the release” until after it was over. About 2,200 people are part of the lawsuit. The Plaintiffs include contract workers who were at the refinery and residents who live within a mile of the refinery. Another 4,000 persons could be added as Plaintiffs in the lawsuit. The lawsuit was filed in the federal court in Galveston.

The Plaintiffs have experienced “the typical exposure symptoms, sinus and eye issues, coughing, feeling nauseous, feeling lethargic — all the common benzene exposure symptoms.” According to BP’s filings with state regulators, about 17,000 pounds of benzene were released — about 400 pounds a day. Benzene has been linked to some forms of cancer, according to U.S. Health and Human Services records.

BP maintains the emissions did not harm the community. It has been estimated that the number of people affected could be about one-fourth of Texas City’s population. BP estimated 37,519 pounds of nitrogen oxides, 17,000 pounds of benzene, 189,000 pounds of carbon monoxide, 61,000 pounds of propane, 34,645 pounds of isobutane and about 160,840 pounds of other emissions were released between April 6 and May 16th. The daily release of benzene was 40 times the state allowable levels.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality issued a report on August 4 finding a pattern of poor operation and maintenance practices at BP’s Texas City refinery. The findings were released after the commission investigated the 46-day release of toxic chemicals from the plant this spring — the same release that is the subject of this lawsuit. The commission delivered its findings to Texas Attorney General Gregg Abbott after concluding that BP’s violations are “egregious.” Tom Kelley, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s office, stated:

Since we first received the referral from the TCEQ, we have been working diligently to prepare an enforcement action against BP. The Texas Attorney General’s Office will take all necessary action to hold BP accountable for additional unauthorized emissions at its Texas City facility.

The Attorney General’s office is looking into 77 air quality violations at the refinery. BP’s Texas City oil refinery — the third largest in the country — has been the subject of a number of lawsuits and investigations over the years. In March 2005, an explosion at the refinery — the highest-profile BP disaster before the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion — left 15 people dead and 170 injured.

BP was fined $50 million for violating the Clean Air Act over the accident, and last year the Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined the company an additional $87 million – four times greater than any other OSHA fine – for uncorrected safety hazards. Four years of private litigation in state court ended in confidential settlements in 2006 and 2007 for the families of those killed and for those who were injured. More recently, in December 2009, a federal jury in Galveston, Texas, awarded $100.3 million to ten workers who became ill after being exposed to toxic fumes at BP’s Texas City plant in 2007.

Anthony Buzbee, a Houston lawyer, represents the Plaintiff in the recently-filed civil lawsuit. This case will be followed closely for a number of reasons. It will give us even more insight into BP’s sorry safety record.

Sources: Law.com and Galveston Daily News

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