(CN) - Citgo Petroleum Corp. is liable for releasing millions of gallons of toxic slop oil and wastewater into Louisiana's Calcasieu River, causing 14 construction workers to become ill, a Louisiana appeals court ruled.
Lake Charles' 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal upheld a trial court's award to workers at the Calcasieu Refining Co. plant who were exposed to vapors from the slop oil, a toxic stew of hazardous waste, including the carcinogen benzene.
Located on a riverside island, the plant was surrounded by toxic oil and wastewater after the spill in June 2006.
Citgo used booms to clean up oil close to the Ron Williams construction site, and then siphoned the oil into a Dumpster close to where the workers rested during breaks.
Workers at the site's dock area said they suffered skin rashes and peeling skin after prolonged exposure to oil in the water. Others complained of respiratory problems, including headaches, nausea and dizziness.
Citgo, which paid a $13 million fine to avoid criminal prosecution, argued that the trial judge's decision should be overturned, because the workers' employer, Ron Williams Construction, and plant owner Calcasieu Refining Co. were at least partly liable for damages.
But the appeals court disagreed.
Writing for the three-judge panel, Judge Ulysses Thibodeaux said there wasn't enough evidence to shift liability onto the plant owner or the workers' employer.
"Citgo attached Calcasieu Refining Co.'s policy statement that it would provide a safe work environment and would control hazards under its jurisdiction," Thibodeaux wrote. "However, Citgo offered no proof that it had provided ... documentation on the contents and dangers of slop oil or that Ron Williams Construction or Calcasieu Refining Co. had any knowledge or control of the hazard caused by Citgo's release."
The panel also upheld the lower court's judgment on causation, punitive damages and costs.
"Citgo ... had knowledge and was constantly aware of the problems with the wastewater treatment unit but made decisions and enforced policies regarding engineering and construction that resulted in the ultimate release of millions of gallons of toxic oil and wastewater into the Calcasieu waterways, causing injuries and damages to the plaintiffs," Thibodeaux concluded.
Citgo's Lake Charles refinery dumped more than 21 million gallons of wastewater and slop oil from the wastewater treatment unit after a heavy rainstorm caused the two storm tanks to overflow and a dike to fail.
Skimmers inside the unit, designed to remove oil from the water, badly needed repair, according to the workers, and the company put off building a third storm tank until 2006.
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