Class Action Lawsuit Filed in Benzene Spill

A new <"">benzene lawsuit, a class action, alleges that a 1986 Shell Oil Company benzene spill damaged property values and ground water in Roxana, Illinois, said The Telegraph. Both BP and Shell operate refineries in the area that processed and used benzene and benzene-containing pollutants.

Benzene is a colorless liquid with a sweet odor that evaporates into the air very quickly and dissolves slightly in water. Several organizations, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the U.S. National Toxicology Program, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) recognize benzene as a cancer-causing chemical.

While benzene’s tolls on the body are well known and documented, this lawsuit claims that the spill caused property values to fall and blames benzene for Roxana residents being unable to sell their houses, said The Telegraph. The suit includes nine counts; no dollar amount has been specified. Shell, BP Products, and individuals described as “John Doe”—designers and engineers in the refining industry—are named defendants.

“Benzene and other poisonous hydrocarbons are floating on the groundwater and are in the soil located directly under the village of Roxana. Shell, BP Products, and the Does have each caused, or contributed to cause, the formation of the underground plume of benzene and other toxic hydrocarbons (the Benzene Plume), which has destroyed the value of the real estate in Roxana and has placed in serious jeopardy the health of Roxana’s residents,” the lawsuit states, quoted The Telegraph. The lawsuit’s other allegations are extensive and include, in part, said The Telegraph that:

• The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) documented that 8,400 gallons of pure benzene was released in 1986 from an underground pipeline. Another document by a different Illinois EPA also discussed the February 1986 release.

• Defendants neglected to clean up or address the toxic release for over two decades; the refinery continued groundwater pumping, pulling benzene from the leak, exposing residents to benzene vapors; and pumping lowered Roxana’s water table and spread the plume.

• Shell has known of benzene’s dangers and carcinogenic properties for tens of years but minimized and hid that information; it has long known, since the 1980s when it performed studies on vapor intrusion, of the dangers of benzene vapors.

• The Illinois EPA and U.S. EPA have cited Shell on a number of occasions for environmental violations at its Wood River Refinery in Roxana. In May 2008, the Illinois EPA cited Shell for violating the Illinois Environmental Protection Act 41 times for exceeding established standards for chemical (including benzene) release into Roxana groundwater.

• As far back as 1948, published studies linked benzene and blood cancers. Shell first learned of the significant leukemia rate at its refineries when a contract worker filed a lawsuit that alleged benzene exposure caused his leukemia; Shell’s own list of leukemia cases of former employees showed it was the site of the greatest number of deaths due to the cancer; and, in 1980, Shell calculated that a “statistically significant” number of leukemia deaths was linked to the Wood River Refinery, but issued a letter to staff minimizing the issue, a move criticized by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

• Last May, the Illinois Department of Public Health wrote to the Illinois EPA about a February 2010 report created for Shell by URS, its contractor, that was posted on the Roxana Investigation website and provided “misleading conclusions” concerning Roxana benzene plume dangers.

• A “mothballed” former BP Amoco plant in Wood River has leaked.

Another benzene lawsuit alleges an Illinois woman developed leukemia and died due to benzene exposure. Filed by the family of Debra Ochs, the suit named Shell and BP as defendants. According to the lawsuit, Debra worked in Roxana as a teacher from 1994 through 2004 and that her exposure to benzene caused her acute myelogenous leukemia (acute myeloid leukemia) in 2003; she died in 2008, and was survived by her husband and daughter. The benzene lawsuit blames Shell and BP for Debra’s wrongful death, and accuses the oil companies of negligence, saying they knowingly released benzene into the air and ground water.

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