TEXAS CITY, Texas—Five years following a plant explosion and in the midst of a massive oil spill in the Gulf, BP is facing new legal trouble over the April release of a cancer-causing chemical called Benzene.
The leak, which occurred at the energy giant’s Texas City refinery, has prompted at least two lawsuits and sparked fear in the community of 44,000 residents.
"I have dizziness and lethargy all day long," said Layce Pearson, a newcomer who moved to Texas City just as the leak was first reported in April. "I’ve seen doctors and have no idea if these symptoms will be with me for the rest of my life."
So far, over 2,000 plaintiffs have signed on with local attorneys. Jason Gibson of the Gibson Law Firm represents around 50 of them.
"If anyone wonders why we keep suing BP, just ask why drunk drivers keep getting prosecuted," Gibson said.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality investigated the leak and called it an "excessive emissions event." The agency concluded it was probably caused by poor maintenance.
In recent weeks, attorneys have handed out flyers and solicited clients throughout Texas City. Pearson said she was approached by an attorney two weeks ago.
"I refused to sign his paperwork," she said. "It seemed like he was just after a quick buck."
Some legal experts believe winning a case against BP in a court of law could be difficult.
"The burden is on the plaintiff," said 11 News legal expert Gerald Treece, Dean of the South Texas School of Law. "They have to show that the damage was specifically caused by the defendant’s activity."
The Texas Attorney General’s Office is considering possible fines against BP.
Late Tuesday, BP issued the following statement: "During the Ultracracker compressor outage of April – May, the community air monitoring network did not show elevated readings. Similarly, the site’s recently enhanced fence line monitoring did not show a ground level impact throughout the event.During the outage the unit was operated at minimal capacity of approximately 55 percent, reducing production and emissions.Based on our understanding of the facts and circumstances, BP does not believe there is any basis to pay claims in connection with this event. BP is not taking or paying such claims."