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Flagrant Violations Alleged Before Blast|That Killed 6 at Tesoro Oil Refinery

MT. VERNON, Wash. (CN) - Families of six workers killed in a Tesoro oil refinery explosion say the company "deliberately exposed workers" to unsafe conditions and repeatedly ignored safety regulations. The complaint alleges a 40-year history of flagrant violations before the April 2010 blast that killed seven people, caused by a faulty heat exchanger that had never been inspected.

Instead of repairing or replacing the exchanger, Tesoro routinely had employees put out fires started by the defective unit, according to the plaintiffs, who include a contractor who was badly burned but survived.

"The leak and fire occurred during routine start-up procedures following a maintenance turnaround," according to the complaint in Skagit County Court. "The leak and fire that occurred was just one of many such failures that occurred each and every single time that the exchangers were started up after maintenance. For a period of 7 years, these exchangers would leak flammable materials and cause fires to erupt that would need to be extinguished quickly before spreading to a larger fire and/or explosion ensued.

"Rather than correct and prevent the problems causing the leak of flammable materials and fires, defendants deliberately exposed workers to the known hazards and required they attempt to fire-fight and extinguish the leaks arising from the start-up procedure located at the exchanger site. After another fire and resulting explosion, the workers who were deliberately exposed were tragically burned to death, some eventually dying on site and several succumbing to severe burn injuries later in the hospital."

Tesoro flouted numerous safety regulations, including failing to have the exchangers inspected for more than 40 years, operating the exchangers above recommended temperature and pressure and failing to inspect the exchanger's welds, the complaint states.

"Tesoro knew that they systematically and continuously violated federal law, state law, their own internal procedures, and generally accepted good engineering practice for inspection and testing of the exchanger at issue," according to the complaint.

"As of September 20th, 2010, a full five months after the incident, Tesoro has yet to put in place any program to monitor, inspect, test, repair and/or replace structurally compromised equipment. Tesoro knew that for a period of at least six years prior to the incident, they were violating all federal and state laws and generally accepted good engineering practices with respect to their pressure vessels considering the fact that they had no procedures in place to ever inspect, test, repair and/or replace the exchangers," the complaint states.

Also named as defendants are Shell Oil, the previous owner of the refinery; Anvil Inc., responsible for refinery inspections; three refinery managers and two contract welders.

The plaintiffs seek punitive for wrongful death, survivorship, and loss of consortium. They are represented by Paul Luvera with Luvera, Barnett, Brindley, Beninger & Cunningham of Seattle.

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