The Dysart Law Firm Announces Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against Shell Oil Company and BP Products North America Over Benzene Pollution Roxana, IL

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On June 3, 2011, the residents of Roxana, Illinois filed a class action lawsuit in the Circuit Court, Third Judicial Circuit, Madison County, Illinois, Patricia Ford et al. v. Shell Oil Company et al., Case No. 11-L- 524, against Shell Oil Company, and BP Products North America, Inc, alleging these companies released toxic chemicals into the ground and groundwater of Roxana creating a health hazard and severely injuring the value of their homes and other property.

According to the Dysart Law Firm, the Class Action Complaint filed in the Madison County Circuit Court (Case No. 11-L- 524) alleges Shell and BP released toxic chemicals into the ground and groundwater of Roxana, Illinois and did nothing to clean up, or otherwise address, the toxic chemicals, including Benzene, for over 20 years.

The Complaint alleges that among the toxic chemicals released, the Illinois EPA documented the release of 8,400 gallons of pure benzene in 1986 from an underground pipeline that extended from the Wood River Refinery in Roxana, Illinois to a barge loading facility on the Mississippi River. Another Illinois EPA documented release of pure benzene occurred in February 1986. The original benzene releases occurred near the intersection of Rand Avenue and Central Street in Roxana.

The Complaint alleges that between 1986 and the present, the Wood River Refinery continued its groundwater pumping activities pulling the benzene from the 1986 leak under the homes and businesses of the residents of Roxana. The benzene in the ground water exposes the Roxana residents to benzene vapor intrusion into their homes.

The Complaint alleges that in addition to the documented benzene releases, the Illinois EPA has also discovered hydrocarbon contamination that has been leaking from the refinery grounds into the subsurface soils along the western fence line of the refinery property. According to a letter sent to the residents of Roxana, Shell, “has recently found high concentrations of certain hydrocarbons, including benzene, as vapors in subsurface soils near the refinery boundary and under the Roxana Public Works buildings south of Eighth Street.” According to the Illinois EPA the “potentially affected area of Roxana is bounded to the north by First St., to the south by Rand Ave., to the west by Central St., and to the east by Chaffer St.”

The Complaint alleges that the toxic chemicals include Benzene, Hexane, Toulene and Xylene.

The Complaint alleges that Shell has known about the dangers of benzene for decades. Scientists began raising concerns about the toxic effects of benzene exposure in the early 1900s. In 1948, the American Petroleum Institute published a toxicological review for its members on benzene stating it is generally considered that the only absolutely safe concentration for benzene is zero.

The Complaint alleges that despite Shell’s knowledge of the dangers posed by benzene exposure, it publicly minimized and hid the dangers. The Complaint alleges that most recently, in May 2010, the Illinois Department of Health (“IEPA”) sent a letter to the Illinois EPA which states that a report dated February 2010, prepared for Shell by its contractor URS and posted on the Roxana Investigation Website for the citizens of Roxana to read, set forth misleading conclusions and recommendations regarding the dangers posed by Benzene and other toxic chemicals in the ground water under Roxana. Specifically, the IEPA “strongly disagreed” with the Shell URS posting on the Website, which stated the soil vapors do not pose a risk to the residents of Roxana. Instead, the IEPA stated “[i]n the shallow vapor samples (5 to 10 feet deep) the elevated benzene and hexane concentrations at this site are of great concern when considering potential residential exposure at this site.” The letter goes on to state “[t]here is good reason to expect benzene and hexane vapors may be entering homes in Roxana based on the levels detected in the shallow soil gas (5 to 10 feet deep), the vapor monitoring points being located in a residential area, and the shallow depth of the more permeable sand unit.”

The Complaint alleges Shell has known about dangers posed by benzene vapors entering homes and other property since it performed studies concerning vapor intrusion in the 1980s. The Complaint alleges that despite Shell’s knowledge of the cancer causing nature of benzene, and despite its knowledge that vapor intrusion poses a significant danger of exposing the residents of Roxana to benzene vapors, Shell did nothing to clean up, or otherwise address, the Roxana Benzene Plume for over 20 years. During this time period, the Wood River Refinery continued its groundwater pumping activities causing the benzene from the 1986 leak to move under the homes and businesses of the residents of Roxana causing prolonged exposure to benzene vapors.
Specifically, in a May 2, 2008 letter to Shell the Illinois EPA stated that the movement of the Benzene Plume is being influenced by the Northfield well pumping and is moving to the Northeast. This movement has caused increased risk to the down gradient receptors, homes and businesses located between the release site and the pumping wells. The letter goes on to state that this creates the potential for residents to be at risk for vapor intrusion and that the concentration of contaminants present on the surface of the water table and the unconfirmed sand aquifer present suitable conditions for vapor migration.

The Complaint alleges the Illinois EPA and the U.S. EPA have cited Shell for numerous environmental violations for its operations at the Wood River Refinery in Roxana, Illinois. Most recently, in May 2008, Shell is known to have violated the Illinois Environmental Protection Act 41 times by exceeding the standards for the release of benzene, ethylbenzene, toulene and xylene into the groundwater of Roxana, Illinois.

The Complaint alleges that about 1,500 people live in Roxana, Illinois, a small town located in Madison County, Illinois not far from the Mississippi river and St. Louis, Missouri.

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Christopher Dysart

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