Eight contractors who worked at the BP Texas City refinery have filed a lawsuit over a benzene leak that occurred in 2009. In addition to BP Products North America Inc., the $500 million lawsuits also name Pasadena Tank Corp., a contractor at the Texas City refinery, as a defendant.
The benzene leak at the BP Texas City refinery occurred on August 19, 2009. According to the workers’ lawsuit, a vapor and a strong odor completely enveloped their work area and they pinpointed the source to a broken pipe. Though they evacuated the area, the plaintiffs claim to have been “injured and had his or her long-term health put in jeopardy after being exposed to extremely high levels of benzene.” Each of the workers experienced various symptoms and sought medical treatment, and were informed by their doctors that they had been exposed to benzene.
The lawsuit further claims that BP “minimized the leak and release, and its effects in both its internal documentation, as well as the documentation with the authorities.”
Benzene is a colorless liquid with a sweet odor. It 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) all recognize benzene as a cancer-causing chemical.
By far, people working in industries where benzene is used or made are subjected to the highest benzene exposure. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as many as 238,000 people may be occupationally exposed to benzene in the U.S. These industries include benzene production (petrochemicals, petroleum refining, and coke and coal chemical manufacturing), rubber tire manufacturing, and storage or transport of benzene and petroleum products containing benzene. Other workers who may be exposed to benzene include coke oven workers in the steel industry, printers, rubber workers, shoemakers, laboratory technicians, firefighters, and gas station employees.
This is not the first time the BP Texas City refinery has been associated with a benzene leak. Last summer, it was learned that a release of chemicals from the plant allowed 17,000 lbs of benzene “a known carcinogen” to leak into the air over a 40-day period between April and May. The incident began on April 6, when BP said a fire compromised a seal on an ultracracker’s hydrogen compressor. The malfunction forced the company to flare off-gases. As it worked to fix the unit over the next 40 days, the plant released 538,000 pounds of pollutants into the air, BP told regulators.
BP reported the incident to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality the day after it happened. But information about the release wasn’t made public until BP submitted a final incident report to regulators June 4. Following the incident, people in the area complained of allergic reactions, sinus infections, headaches, nosebleeds and other symptoms consistent with benzene exposure.