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BP sold Texas oil refinery after making hundreds of people sick, victims claim

Published time: April 16, 2013 18:43
AFP Photo / Ben Stansall

AFP Photo / Ben Stansall

After releasing toxic chemicals that left hundreds sick, BP sold its Texas City, Texas oil refinery for $2.4 billion. Now the oil and gas company is facing a $1 billion lawsuit for “violating the rights and endangering the health” of 474 plaintiffs.

The victims in the case claim that BP’s oil refinery released highly toxic chemicals for 15 consecutive days in November 2011 and inflicted permanent environmental and health damages upon the local community. BP allegedly knew about the potential harm these chemicals could do, but “failed to take proper action to stop or control the release,” the lawsuit states.

Additionally, years of unsafe practices at the refinery have polluted the city, most notably the series of explosions and fires that killed 15 workers and injured 1,000 in March 2005. And after polluting Texas City from 1998 until earlier this year, BP sold its refinery, reaping lucrative profits while abandoning the now-contaminated region.

“BP made a tremendous amount of money while doing business in Texas City, sold the refinery at a large profit and then left Texas City and the people of Galveston County holding the bag for its mess,” reads the complaint, filed by lead plaintiff Samuel Charles Boyd Jr. “To be sure, the mess is enormous - so large that Texas City and Galveston County may very well never recover from the harm done to the area environment."

The lawsuit also alleges that because of BP’s violations of air pollution laws and guidelines, Galveston County now has the worst air quality in the US – a side-effect of the crude refinery that residents must now bear the consequences of.

BP sold its Texas City oil refinery to Marathon Petroleum Corporation for $2.4 billion on Feb. 1, the company announced on its website.

But although the lawsuit cites numerous instances in which BP’s refinery polluted the environment, killed workers or sickened residents, the complaint focuses on the impact of the 15-day period that released toxic chemicals into the air.

"From November 10, 2011 through possibly early December 2011, BP reportedly released Sulfur Dioxide, Methyl Carpaptan, Dimethyl Disulfide and other toxic chemicals into the atmosphere,” the complaint reads. “Despite that the leak had been reported, BP denied the dangerousness of the leak, or that any harm could be caused from it.”

While some refinery employees sought medical treatment, air monitors picked up on increased levels of toxins and residents described smelling an unpleasant odor, BP repeatedly denied that the chemicals were in any way harmful. The 474 plaintiffs named in the lawsuit now seek compensation for their repeated exposure to the dangerous chemicals produced by the refinery.

“Plaintiffs seek remedy for the repeated exposures that have occurred as a result of the release of chemicals from the refinery, and also to send a message to BP, its officers and its Board of Directors – that the wanton poisoning of an entire community is not an acceptable business practice,” the complaint reads. “In this effort, plaintiffs seek punitive damages against BP in excess of $1 billion.”

Meanwhile, BP is already defending itself in a trial over the environmental impacts of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which is considered the largest accidental marine oil spill in history. With the latest lawsuit against BP, the oil and gas company could be facing even greater penalties for its calamitous effect on the environment.