Village of Roxana piles on in benzene suit against Shell and others

Kelly Holleran Mar. 29, 2012, 2:10am




The Village of Roxana claims it has lost out on substantial tax revenues and says its residents' health is in danger after a variety of oil refineries have allegedly contaminated the town's property and water.

The Village of Roxana filed a lawsuit March 20 in Madison County Circuit Court against Shell Oil Company, Equilon Enterprises, ConocoPhillips Company, WRB Refining, ConocoPhillips WRB Partners and Cenovus GPCO.

The defendants also face a growing number of personal injury suits on behalf of individuals claiming benzene exposure resulted in their development of leukemia.

In its complaint, the village claims its residents have been exposed to various contaminants, including benzene, which may cause them to develop cancer and other health issues. As a result, the town's land has lost value, according to the complaint.

The oil refineries, which have been in existence since 1917 and have been refining oil since 1918, began accidentally releasing massive amounts of benzene, hydrogen sulfide, methyl mercaptan and sulfur dioxide beginning in the 1980s through leaks, the suit states. The contaminants were either released into the ground or the air during the numerous spills, the complaint says.

"Defendants' releases and spills of petroleum products from leaking pipes and storage tanks, transfer of product, equipment failures, and fires have contaminated and continue to contaminate the ground of the Village," the suit states. "Defendants' releases of volatile organic compounds, petroleum hydrocarbons, hydrogen sulfide, methyl marcaptan, sulfur dioxide, and aluminum silicate catalyst have contaminated and continue to contaminate the air."

In fact, so much benzene has been released into the soil that soil vapor sampling detected levels in the Public Works Yard at levels more than 14,000 times the legal limit, according to the complaint.

In addition to the soil contaminants, the engineering firm URS Corporation discovered the existence of two groundwater plumes. Groundwater plumes are volumes of contaminated groundwater that extend from a specific source. The two plumes are contaminated with benzene, which leaked from a pipeline spill in the area south/southwest of Roxana, and petroleum products from a refinery to the east, the suit states. The plumes exist in the southern portion of Roxana, the complaint says.

Benzene and other toxic chemicals have also made their way to certain surface waters via a running water drainage ditch that flows south along Old Edwardsville Road and Illinios Route 111. The ditch passes within several hundred feet of the Roxanna Water Treatment Facility, which provides all of the drinking water for the town, the village claims.

Excessive storm water discharge near the facility also diverts to Grassy Lake, which sits across from the drainage ditch. Smith Lake and Conoco Lake may also be contaminated. The lakes, which house various wildlife, are also used for recreation and fishing, according to the complaint.

The contaminants in the water and soil can cause various diseases. For instance, benzene is known to cause cancer; ethylbenzene, which is found in oil, may cause eye and throat irritation, vertigo and dizziness; toluene may result in headaches, dizziness, tiredness, memory loss, nausea and loss of appetite; and n-hexane, a chemical made from crude oil, can cause nerve disorders, the village claims.

"The contamination of the Village, the groundwater and its property endangers the health of every resident of Roxana," the suit states. "The contamination of the Village, the groundwater and its property has caused great economic loss to Roxana, including loss of opportunity, revenue and residential tax base."

Roxana alleges trespass, public nuisance, private nuisance and unjust enrichment against the defendants.

It seeks a declaratory judgment for the costs of removal of contaminants from the waters. It also seeks a judgment of more than $200,000, costs to minimize damage to the public health, attorneys' fees, costs and other relief.

James E. Schrempf, the village attorney for Roxana, will be representing it. Derek Y. Brandt, G. Michael Stewart and Jo Anna Pollock of Simmons, Browder, Gianaris, Angelides and Barnerd in Alton; Melissa K. Sims of Melissa K. Sims Law Office in Peru; and Paul J. Hanly Jr., Jayne Conroy and Andrea Bierstein of Hanly, Conroy, Bierstein, Sheridan, Fisher and Hayes in New York are serving of counsel.

Madison County Circuit Court case number: 12-L-357.

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