BP sold its Texas City refinery for $2.4 billion after making hundreds of people sick in a 15-day release of toxic chemicals that BP denied were harmful, 474 plaintiffs claim in court.
Lead plaintiff Samuel Charles Boyd Jr. sued BP Products North America and refinery manager Keith Casey for more than $1 billion in punitive damages, in Galveston County Court.
"BP has a long history of violating the rights and endangering the health of the people in Texas City, La Marque, and Galveston County," the complaint states. "BP has consistently ignored and violated air pollution laws and guidelines. Because of this, Galveston County now has the worst air quality in the United States. And it is the people of the community who have suffered. During BP 's tenure in Texas City, it earned billions of dollars -often bragging internally that it was making money 'hand over fist' or that it was 'printing money.'
"Most recently, BP sold the Texas City Refinery for over two billion dollars. Simply put, 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. 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."
BP completed its sale of the refinery to Marathon Petroleum Corporation on Feb. 1 for an estimated $2.4 billion, BP announced on its website.
But the plaintiffs say: "This case focuses on a single pollution event perpetrated by BP among the thousands of similar acts that occurred during its time in Texas City. In November of 2011, BP released various toxic chemicals for approximately fifteen days. BP was aware of the release, knew of the harm the release could cause, but failed to take proper action to stop or control the release."
The plaintiffs claim BP's safety record at the refinery was horrendous: a series of explosions and fires in March 2005 killed 15 workers and injured more than 1,000, resulting in a $21 million fine and an OSHA settlement agreement.
That's not all, the plaintiffs say: Four more people died at the refinery after the March 2005 fires: one each in 2006 and 2007 and two more in 2008.
"In 2009, the Texas Attorney General, on behalf of the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality ('TCEQ') sued BP for a series of 72 excessive chemical emissions dating back to 2005," the complaint states. "In 2011, BP agreed to pay $50 million in fines for these emissions. The fine was the largest for Texas Clean Air Act violations at a single facility."
But despite BP's repeated safety violations at the refinery, the plaintiffs say: "This case arises from a single event."
"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. Despite that the leak had been reported, BP denied the dangerousness of the leak, or that any harm could be caused from it. ...
"In its statement, BP purposely misled the public regarding air monitors m the community. Such monitors do not detect the presence of mercaptan. Further, BP failed to inform the public that monitors at neighboring Dow had indeed detected the presence of Sulfur Dioxide -- despite the fact that BP refused to admit that such compound had even been released. Perhaps more egregious, in its statement, BP completely misled the public about the dangers of mercaptan, implying that it was not dangerous, and could not cause symptoms."
Mercaptans are the chemicals that make skunk spray smell bad, a professional chemist told Courthouse News.
The complaint continues: "According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, methyl mercaptan is a colorless flammable gas with unpleasant odor described as rotten cabbage. It is easily ignited. Methyl mercaptan is highly irritant when it contacts moist tissues such as the eyes, skin, and upper respiratory tract.
"It can also induce headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, coma, and death. inhalation is the major route of exposure to methyl mercaptan. An odor threshold of 0.002 ppm has been reported for methyl mercaptan, but olfactory fatigue may occur and thus, it may not provide adequate warning of hazardous concentrations. Children exposed to the same levels of methyl mercaptan as adults may receive a larger dose because they have a greater lung surface area-a body weight ratios and higher minute volume --weight ratios. In addition, they may be exposed to higher levels than adults in the same location because of their short stature and the higher levels of mercaptan lower to the ground.
"The leak was substantial enough that it was purpo1tedly detected at other facilities located as far as two miles away."
The plaintiffs claim that an alarm picked up a sulfur dioxide reading at Dow Chemical's neighboring plant on Nov. 12, 2011.
"The end result for the Dow facility was that it had to shut down most of its operations for that time period and send all nonessential employees home, all essential employees had to be given respirators, and 30-40 employees sought medical treatment and a number of these employees had to be taken off site for medical treatment.
"All of this occurred, despite BP reporting to its neighbors and the community that no dangerous chemicals were being released. BP has a tortured history of failure in the area of PSM. Over the past few years, tens of thousands of individuals were injured and had their long-term health put in jeopardy after being exposed to extremely high levels of carcinogens and other toxic chemicals while working at the Refinery or by simply living or working near the Refinery."
"Plaintiffs seek remedy for the repeated exposures that have occurred as 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. In this effort, plaintiffs seek punitive damages against BP in excess of $1 billion."
The plaintiffs are all Texas residents. They seek damages for assault and battery, negligence, negligent training and supervision, liability for ultra-hazardous activity, intentional infliction of emotional distress, nuisance, trespass, fraud and gross negligence.
They are represented by Anthony Buzbee with the Buzbee Law Firm in Houston.
Courthouse News Service
April 15, 2013