GALVESTON, Texas (CN) – BP allowed 17,000 pounds of benzene, “one of the most deadly and nastiest carcinogens,” to spew from its Texas City refinery to avoid losing profits and to duck the bad publicity of a shut down, workers and residents claim in a federal class action. They want BP to pay more than $10 billion in punitive damages for allegedly putting “profits over the safety of people.”
From April 6 to May 16, BP released 538,000 of chemicals and compounds, including the 17,000 pounds of benzene, when a hydrogen compressor in an operating unit at its plant went offline, according to the complaint.
“The hydrogen compressor is responsible for trapping noxious chemicals, and without it working BP opted to send the gases to a flare,” plant workers and nearby residents claim. “BP did this, even though it knew the flaring process would be, at best, incomplete and allow some chemicals to escape into the atmosphere.”
The operating unit produces 65,000 barrels of oil a day, and “each barrel during this time would have resulted in $5 to $10 in profit for BP,” according to the complaint.
“With this much money at stake, shutting down the [operating unit], even for just a brief 24 hour period, would have garnered attention from the financial press and investors,” the class says.
BP did not inform Texas City officials of the “scale of the release” until after it was over, the lawsuit states.
BP’s Texas City refinery has a “long and tragic history” of environmental and safety violations that have resulted in 20 deaths since 2005, the class says.
“Since BP’s acquisition of the refinery, there have been hundreds, if not thousands, of leaks, spills and releases at the refinery,” workers and residents claim.
BP came under increased federal and state scrutiny after a 2005 explosion and fire at the plant, and company paid more than $100 million in fines, the lawsuit states.
In a 2009 settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, BP paid $12 million in fines and agreed to “improve management controls to minimize Benzene wastes, plus implement major upgrades to the facility and equipment” the class claims.
“As the incident in this case proves, BP failed to live up to its agreement,” the class members claim.
The exact number of the class has yet to be determined, but the lawsuit says it includes “literally thousands of persons worked at the refinery and/or resided in Texas City, Texas between April 6, 2010 and May 16, 2010.”
The class seeks damages for BPs negligence, assault and battery, and private nuisance. In addition to the $10 billion in punitive damages, the class wants $5 million in actual and compensatory damages.
Anthony Buzbee of Houston is representing the plaintiffs in their lawsuit against BP Products North America.