Hartford-raised man sues for petroleum exposure

Steve Gonzalez Dec. 1, 2005, 5:01am

Nathan Wright of Murphysboro filed a benzene lawsuit in Madison County Circuit Court alleging his blood disorder was caused by petroleum products he was exposed to for the two years he lived in Hartford.

Wright, who filed the suit Nov. 30, is seeking damages in excess of $150,000.

According to the complaint, Wright was conceived and born in Hartford in 1982 and lived there until his family moved in 1984. In 1986, he was diagnosed with aplastic anemia, a blood disorder caused by benzene.

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), aplastic anemia is a failure of the bone marrow to properly form all types of blood cells. If untreated, it can lead to a rapid death.

Mild cases of aplastic anemia are treated with blood transfusions and platelet transfusions which help correct the abnormal blood counts and relieve some symptoms.

Severe cases require a bone marrow transplant in younger patients.
Benzene is an aromatic hydrocarbon that is produced by the burning of natural products. It is a component of products derived from coal and petroleum and is found in gasoline and other fuels and is used to make some types of rubbers, lubricants, dyes, detergents, drugs and pesticides.

Natural sources of benzene include volcanoes and forest fires. Benzene also is a natural part of crude oil, gasoline, and cigarette smoke.

Wright claims that prior to 1983, huge amounts of gasoline and petroleum products were leaked or spilled from refineries or pipelines underneath Hartford so that about four million gallons of co-mingled gasoline and petroleum products exist under Hartford.

He claims that the vapors from the waste were released into the homes of the residents of Hartford and also claims that benzene polluted the water at dangerous levels.

Defendants in Wright's suit include Valero Energy, formerly known as Clark Oil, Apex Oil Company, Atlantic Richfield Company, Sinclair Oil, Shell Oil, Amoco Oil and BP Pipelines.

“Wright did not learn of a possible connection between his environmental exposure and defendants’ release of toxins including benzene in Hartford, and his aplastic anemia until 2004,” the complaint states.

He claims that any applicable statues of limitations have been tolled or have not run because the defendants’ knowingly and actively concealed and denied the leaks.

“Wright had been kept in ignorance of the nature and extent of the information essential to the pursuit of these claims, without any fault of lack of diligence on his part,” the suit states.

Wright claims that the defendants knew or should have known that the benzene in the products that leaked has a toxic, poisonous and highly deleterious effect on any person coming into contact with them.

According to the complaint, the defendants failed to inspect, monitor and maintain their pipelines and facilities, and failed to clean up the gas and petroleum that leaked or spilled.

Wright claims that as a result he has incurred medical expenses, deformities, stunted growth, pain and suffering, mental anguish and a shortened life expectancy.

According to the NIH, bone marrow transplantation has been successful in young people, with long term survival of 80 percent. Older people have a survival rate of 40 to 70 percent.

Wright also claims he will incur future medical expenses and will be on life-long medication.

He claims the defendants owed him a duty to refrain from willful and wanton acts that would harm him. However, they breached that duty by failing to properly store, handle, dispose or clean up remediate gasoline and petroleum products.

Wright is represented by David Helfrey, Philip Graham and Allison Price-Appel of Helfrey, Simon & Jones in St. Louis and Teresa Woody, Norman Siegel, Todd Hilton, Aaron Johnson and David Summers of Kansas City.

The case has been assigned to Circuit Judge Nicholas Byron.

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