TEXAS CITY — BP was hit with a $1 billion lawsuit last week in which 474 people claim that a 15-day emissions event in 2011 made them sick.
BP Products of North American and former BP Texas City refinery manager Keith Casey are named in the lawsuit, which was filed Thursday.
BP claims that in November 2011, a leak of Mercaptan from a storage tank at its refinery — now owned by Marathon Petroleum — caused an odor, but that no one was harmed.
Specifically, the tank was emitting dimethyl disulphide, which is a form of Mercaptan; a colorless, odorless natural gas is treated with Mercaptan so leaks can be detected.
The odor from the leak was extreme enough that more than 30 employees of neighboring Dow Chemical sought medical attention complaining of “various symptoms” at the company’s on-site health and wellness center, Dow officials said. Company officials at the time said they did scale back operations at their plant because of the leak.
Dow workers are among those in the lawsuit, lead attorney Anthony Buzbee said.
Buzbee is the lead attorney in another BP emissions event in which the company sent more than 500,000 pounds of pollutants into the air during a 40-day period in 2010, but didn’t inform the general public about the event. More than 50,000 people are part of that lawsuit which also seeks $1 billion.
That trial is scheduled to start in September.
Similarly, the 2011 leak was going on for several days before BP officials notified city officials or the general public.
It wasn’t until the foul stench prompted calls to the city’s dispatch center that the leak was traced back to BP.
“BP was aware of the release, knew of the harm the release could cause, but failed to take proper action to stop or control the release,” the lawsuit claims.
BP spokesman Scott Dean said the company would withhold comment until after the lawsuit had been reviewed.
Buzbee said despite BP’s denial, an alarm went off after it detected sulfur dioxide.
Dow workers and some residents claim the leak made them sick.
“Many sought medical treatment (and) one was hospitalized,” Buzbee said. “At least two have permanent damage, according to their doctors. BP denied releasing sulfur dioxide, but admitted to releasing mercaptan.”
The lawsuit claims BP also mislead the public about the ill affects of exposure to Mercaptan.
“(It) can also induce headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, coma and death,” the lawsuit reads. “Inhalation is the major route of exposure to methyl mercaptan. An odor threshold of 0.002 parts per million has been reported for methyl mercaptan, but olfactory fatigue may occur and thus, it may not provide adequate warning of hazardous concentrations.”