Benzene Exposure Levels at BP Plant Lead to $180 Million Settlement

A government pollution lawsuit over benzene emissions at a refinery in Texas City, Texas, has resulted in a settlement where BP Products North America, Inc. will pay nearly $180 million in fines and improvements for their pollution control.

The environmental lawsuit stemmed from violations of a 2001 consent decree and Clean Air Act regulations over controls on benzene and waste products containing benzene which were generated during BP’s petroleum refining operations at the plant.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identified the violations during inspections that followed a catastrophic explosion and fire in March 2005, which killed 15 people and injured 170 others.

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Under the terms of the settlement, BP has agreed to spend $161 million to address their Clean Air Act violations. The company will spend this money on setting up better pollution controls, enhanced maintenance and monitoring devices and on improving their internal management practices.

Another $12 million will be paid as a penalty and $6 million will be used to fund a project to reduce air pollution in Texas City.

The settlement does not address any of the personal injury or wrongful death claims arising from the explosion at the plant where the benzene emissions were a problem.

Benzene is an industrial chemical that is often used as a solvent, during the manufacture of several products and as an additive in gasoline. It is a known carcinogen, and benzene exposure has been linked to the development of several forms of leukemia and other fatal diseases, such as Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML), Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL), Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma (NHL) and Myelodysplastic Syndrome.

“BP failed to fulfill its obligations under the law, putting air quality and public health at risk,” said Catherine R. McCabe, acting assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, in a statement released February 19, 2009. “Today’s settlement will improve air quality for the people living in and around Texas City, many of whom come from minority and low-income backgrounds.”

Last month, an unrelated Benzene lawsuit was filed against BP by a man who developed chronic lymphocytic leukemia after working around chemicals and solvents at the Texas City refinery for 30 years. The lawsuit alleges that BP and the other defendants were aware of the dangers associated with benzene and failed to warn him that he was working in close proximity to the hazardous product without precautions that could have reduced the risk of exposure.

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