NEW ORLEANS (CN) - Exposure to toxic gas at Exxon's Chalmette, La., refinery made a towboat captain deaf in one ear, the licensed pilot claims in a federal complaint.
Tammie White claims that Florida Marine Transportation, his employer at the time, should have provided him with a respirator and chemical-release detection system, at a minimum, because the Exxon refinery has a known history of periodically releasing toxic chemicals.
White says he came into contact with the highly toxic H2S gas during a delivery this past January, transporting bulk liquid barges to load heavy crude oil.
After he smelled sulfur, White "quickly became nauseated, dizzy, with headaches and eye pain and collapsed," according to the federal complaint. "Captain White subsequently suffered a total loss of hearing in his right ear and suffers from a loss of balance and ringing in the ears."
Even minute quantities of H2S can be fatal, White claims, and the Exxon Chalmette facility has a long history of H2S gas releases.
This past October, for instance, a worker died at Exxon Chalmette from inhaling H2S gas while trying to fix an H2S pipeline leak. The refinery's release of the chemical is ongoing, according to the lawsuit, which notes that Exxon Chalmette reported H2S release as recently as April 26, 2011.
Yet, in spite of the known threat, Florida Marine Transportation does not equip its boats with an H2S detection system, and it does not provide workers with respirators that would defend them against the gas, White says.
"H2S can smell like rotten eggs but can also quickly deaden a person's olfactory nerves and eliminate one's ability to smell the gas," according to the complaint. "Common symptoms of H2S exposure include nausea, vomiting, eye damage, dizziness, shortness of breath and death."
White is suing Florida Marine, under general maritime law, and says it is unlikely the Coast Guard will renew his master's license since he is deaf in one ear and has lost his sense of balance. He is represented by Mark Ross of Lafayette, La.
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