Roxana Benzene Lawsuit Filed By Resident Diagnosed with Cancer

An Illinois woman has filed a toxic tort lawsuit against several major oil and gas companies, alleging that she developed cancer as a result of benzene spills from a refinery in Roxana, Illinois, which occurred over a period of several years.  

The benzene lawsuit was filed last month by Betty Cox in Madison County Circuit Court, naming Shell, ConocoPhillips, BP, WRB Refining and Cenovus GPCO as defendants.

Cox claims that numerous spills from the Wood River Refinery seeped through her basement during the years she lived in Roxana. Her lawsuit presents claims for damages against the companies for negligence, trespass, public nuisance and private nuisance, joining a number of similar other lawsuits filed in recent years by Roxana-area residents.

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Benzene is an industrial chemical that has been associated with the development of several fatal forms of cancer, leukemia and other conditions, such as Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML), Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML), Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL), Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL), Hairy Cell Leukemia (HCL), Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Multiple Myeloma, Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDL), Myelofibrosis and Myeloid Metaplasia, Aplastic Anemia and Thrombocytopenic Purpura.

Since 1988, there have been repeated toxic chemical releases of benzene and other chemicals in Roxana, Illinois, with some estimates claiming as much as 13.3 million pounds of pollutants have been released into the air. There are also claims of numerous groundwater contamination events as well in the area.

In 2011, a number of Roxana residents filed a groundwater contamination class action lawsuit over benzene spills from the same refinery, which allegedly lowered property values in the town of about 1,500 people.  Plaintiffs alleged that Shell released at least 8,400 gallons of benzene from an underground pipeline that went from the Wood River Refinery in Roxana to a barge loading facility on the Mississippi River. The spill created a plume under the village that contaminated groundwater supplies, the lawsuit claimed. Similar leaks occurred from a BP facility in Wood River as well, according to the lawsuit.

The facilities have been cited a number of times by the EPA for violating environmental protection laws. In May 2008, Shell was cited for excessive releases of benzene and other chemicals into Roxana’s groundwater. Last summer, during a heat wave that hit the Midwest and East Coast, Illinois environmental officials sent a letter urging Roxana residents not to sleep in their basements due to the risk of benzene exposure after testing indicated there could be a danger to residents’ health. Last year, the town itself sued the companies over the spills.

Shell, the site’s current owner, worked with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency last year to set up a soil vapor extraction system to remove benzene from the ground. Shell bought three houses near the fence line of the refinery and demolished them to build the extraction system.


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