Roxana residents sue refineries in new class action over property and water damage

Kelly Holleran Apr. 25, 2012, 1:49am


Residents of the town of Roxana claim their health is in danger after a variety of oil refineries have allegedly contaminated the town's property and water.

Jeana Parko, Delbert R. Cobine, Janice A. Cobine and Rodger Jennings filed a putative class action lawsuit April 16 in Madison County Circuit Court against Shell Oil Company, Equilon Enterprises, ConocoPhillips Company, WRB Refining, ConocoPhillips WRB Partners and Cenovus GPCO.

Derek Y. Brandt, G. Michael Stewart and Jo Anna Pollock of Simmons, Browder, Gianaris, Angelides and Barnerd in Alton will be representing them. 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.

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 the new complaint, the residents claim they have been exposed to various contaminants, including benzene, which may cause them to develop cancer and other health issues.

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 addition to the soil and air 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.

Groundwater pumping performed at the refinery site has also spread contaminants throughout the town, the plaintiffs claim.

"Ordinarily, any benzene in the groundwater would follow the groundwater gradient to the west," the suit states. "The groundwater pumping, however, pulls groundwater toward the Refinery pumping centers, back to the northeast and under the southern portion of the Village's residential area."

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.
Not only are they concerned about their health, but the plaintiffs claim they also fear for the value of their properties.

"The contamination has reduced or destroyed the value of these properties," the suit states. "The contamination of these properties has caused great economic loss to Plaintiffs and the other owners of these properties."

The plaintiffs allege negligence, trespass, public nuisance, private nuisance and unjust enrichment against the defendants.

The plaintiffs seek compensatory or restorative damages of more than $250,000, plus costs and other relief the court deems just. They are also asking the court to implement a medical monitoring program, which would track the plaintiffs' health.

Madison County Circuit Court case number: 12-L-483.

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