Two weeks before the explosion that led to the big oil spill, BP had another problem at its plant in Texas City. A fire caused a leak in one of its hydrogen compressors. The company said it had to let off gas into the air while it fixed the problem. But fixing it took 40 days, and by then more than 500 pounds of toxic benzene had been released into the air.
“We were never informed about it. Never really new what happened until we started getting symptoms that made us sick.”
That’s Natalie Hadley, one of thousands of people who are adding their name to a class-action lawsuit against BP. Tony Buzbee is the attorney handling this particular suit.
“It actually does surprise me, having handled multiple mass torts. I’ve never seen anything like this. And it appears Texas City residents are angry. They feel like they were not told about something that’s very dangerous and BP tried to take advantage of its other problem that it had to kind of sweep this under the rug.”
The law firm held an informational meeting at a Texas City community center. Sherra Collins says she came to ask questions but was told she had to sign a form making Buzbee her lawyer before they would answer any questions.
“I know that they’re asking for us to sign over a power of attorney to them before we can ask questions of them, so I’m kind of sitting here wondering if I’m going to just leave and go with another law firm that will let me ask questions, because I don’t want to sign a power of attorney if I don’t have the information that I want to ask.”
Benzene is a toxic pollutant known to cause cancer. BP says the daily emissions were minimal. An environmental commission found the amount of chemicals in the air did not exceed state or federal standards. But the company was still cited for releasing too much. Natalie Hadley believes it’s the chemicals that have made her and her kids abnormally sick lately.
“Passing out, fainting, dizziness, you know, vomiting. Things like that was going on. We never knew what was happening. I had a son who was thrown into two seizures, was coughing, passing out. We didn’t know why until I took him to UTMB and they said he had upper respiratory problems.”
The list of complainants started at 2 thousand but has now grown to 12 thousand. There are skeptics who might say some of the people are jumping on the bandwagon in order to get money. Attorney Buzbee says they’re only taking people who have had symptoms of exposure, but the symptoms of benzene exposure are similar to that of the flu, making proof of exposure difficult. Which means it will all have to be settled in court. For now, Lawyers are asking for judgment of $10 billion dollars.
Bill Stamps, KUHF News.