Over 50,000 people have filed suit against British Petroleum (BP) over a 2010 accident at their Texas City refinery that allegedly allowed more than 500,000 pounds of toxic chemicals to be released into the air. A state investigation into the incident found that actions taken by BP violated state air quality laws. BP has already paid a $50 million fine to the state to settle criminal charges related to the 2010 accident as well as to cover past air emission violations.
Between April 6 and May 16, 2010, a problem with a compressor in the refinery's ultracracker unit resulted in flaring issues, yet BP management made the decision to continue operating the unit. As a result of that decision, over 500,000 pounds of chemicals, including benzene and carbon monoxide, were released into the air.
In the recently filed suit, 53,800 people claim they have suffered ill health as a result of the toxic emissions. The cases have been grouped together to form 538 different suits. Responding to the claims, BP maintains that the event didn't cause harm to anyone. "Neither the community air monitoring network nor the BP fence-line monitors showed elevated (harmful emission) readings during April and May 2010, and we do not believe that any negative health impacts resulted from flaring at BP's Texas City refinery during this period" a spokesman for BP said. Carbon monoxide has been shown to cause shortness of breath, nausea, headaches and dizziness; high levels of exposure can kill people fairly quickly. Benzene exposure can cause drowsiness, dizziness, vomiting, a rapid or irregular heartbeat, headaches, tremors, confusion, convulsions, unconsciousness and, in high volumes, death.
The flaring incident in 2010 is the not the first problem to occur at the Texas City BP refinery, the second largest refinery in the state. On March 23, 2005, a fire and explosion occurred at the plant, killing 15 employees and wounding over 170 others. The plant suffered two more safety problems that same year, leading to one employee injury in July and a community order-to-shelter in August. In January 2008 a BP operations supervisor was killed at the plant when he sustained head injuries while prepping for service in a water filtration vessel. In September, 2010, just months after the flaring incident, an accident in Pipestill 3B (whose cause is still under investigation) led to two employees suffering from serious steam burns. BP recently announced its plans to sell the refinery in an email obtained by the Galveston Daily News.