GALVESTON, Texas (CN) - Neighbors of BP's Texas City oil refinery demand $10 billion in punitive damages for years of air pollution that contaminated "yards and homes, including ... air-conditioning units and ducts ... with toxic chemicals". The class describes BP as "a known felon and serial polluter who purposely releases on a routine basis, toxic gases into the air," and then lies about it to regulators.
"The damage that BP has done to the environment for those communities surrounding its Texas City Plant may take years to correct, if ever," the complaint states.
Since March 23, 2005, when a series of explosions and fires killed 15 workers at the third-largest petroleum refinery in the United States, BP's Texas City operations have been scrutinized by federal and state regulators, and BP was fined more than $70 million under a settlement with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, according to the complaint.
Since that 2005 disaster four more workers have died at the refinery: one in 2006, one in 2007, and two in 2008, the class claims.
"All of these deaths were related to failure to implement and follow procedures, failure to inspect and maintain equipment, and/or failures of [production safety management]," according to the complaint.
The latest example of BP's alleged culture of noncompliance came from April 6 to May 16, when it released 538,000 pounds of chemical compounds, including 17,000 pounds of carcinogenic benzene, into the air, according to the complaint.
"After the release, BP reported to the authorities that various amounts were allegedly released, and stated publicly that the release was of no consequence and constituted no harm to the public," the class says.
BP said that flares it uses to burn off chemicals released from the refinery broke down the chemicals before they could harm the public.
"Specifically, BP stated: 1) fence-line monitors are in place to detect any harmful chemicals, and none of concern were detected; 2) the flare in question was 300 feet tall, and thus any substances released dissipated long before any harm could be done to the public; and 3) there are other monitors with Texas City that will detect harmful substances, if any had been released - and these monitors did not detect any chemical levels of concern," according to the complaint.
But the class says: "All of BP's public statements are misleading and several are outright lies."
The complaint continues: "First, BP knows that its fence-line monitors will not detect substances released more than 300 feet in the air; indeed, the air model created by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality ('TCEQ') for this very release demonstrates as much.
"Second, BP knows full well there are no monitors that detect for benzene beyond those at its fence line - there are simply no benzene monitors in the cities of Texas City or La Marque.
"Third, BP knows, but did not tell anyone that Flare No. 3 has repeatedly malfunctioned and BP was advised in July 2009 that this flare needed to be calibrated and overhauled.
"Fourth and most importantly, BP knows that due to maintenance issues, there is no way that BP can even make an educated guess as to the amount of product sent to flare or how much actually burned.
"Based on BP's own records, and those of the TCEQ, the amount of gas released into Texas City and La Marque is exponentially more than what BP reported, and it simply would not have been detected, except by those people who were unfortunate enough to breathe it into their lungs. BP lied to the authorities, the press, and the general public. This is standard practice for this British company. It should be punished, severely," the class says.
"Despite the efforts of the EPA, OSHA, TCEQ, and other federal and state agencies, including the United States Justice Department, and despite the massive fines that these agencies have assessed, BP simply has not changed, and continues to pollute the ground, water and air," according to the complaint.
"Harmful chemical and particulates released from the refinery continue to descend on nearby properties causing permanent damage to the real property and fixtures and, as a direct result, many of the schools in the Texas City Independent School District were found to have among the worst air quality in the country when compared to other schools. This pollution and contamination has caused a long term stigma to attach to the properties surrounding the refinery . ...Plaintiffs and all members of the class bring this case seeking change."
The proposed class consists of "hundreds, if not thousands" of people who own, or have owned, property near BP's Texas City refinery.
The class seeks more than $5 million in economic and compensatory damages and $10 billion in punitive damages. It alleges negligence, trespass, nuisance and vicarious liability for negligent conduct of employees at BP's Texas City refinery.
The class is represented by Houston attorney Anthony Buzbee.
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