Roxana refineries deny allegations in resident’s benzene lawsuit

By Heather Isringhausen Gvillo | Dec 10, 2013


Several Roxana refineries blamed for releasing benzene into the soil and surrounding air, causing a woman to develop cancer have denied allegations against them and demanded a jury.

According to the complaint filed Oct. 15, Betty Cox accuses Shell Oil Company, ConocoPhillips Company, WRB Refining, Cenovus GPCO and BP Products North America for her illness.

She claims volatile products, including benzene, produced by the defendant refineries seeped into her home through cracks in her cinder block basement walls and through an open drain in her basement, the suit states.

She alleges benzene is a highly toxic chemical classified as a human carcinogen.

“Based on the proximity of plaintiff’s property to the refineries it was reasonably foreseeable that plaintiff could be injured through the release, discharge, or spilling of such chemicals from the refineries, and/or from the failure to remediate spills for which defendants are responsible,” according to the complaint.

In her complaint, Cox accuses the defendants of operating their refineries in a manner that allowed for the release of benzene, stored benzene in a way that allowed its release onto surrounding properties, failed to keep the pipelines safe, allowed benzene to remain underground where it reached groundwater supply and pumped groundwater in such a manner that benzene moved in an unnatural manner that allowed it to contaminate her property.

Defendants ConocoPhillips Company, WRB Refining LP, ConocoPhillips WRB Partner LLC and Cenovus GPCO LLC answered the complaint on Dec. 4.

In their answer, the defendants argue that they followed federal regulations, obtaining permits that authorize limits of emissions of certain chemicals into the air.

They claim that during the time period in question, they “have operated the refinery pursuant to the federal and state regulations that govern safe and environmentally responsible operations.”

The defendants also filed 45 affirmative defenses against the plaintiff arguing that the claims against them are “expressly and/or impliedly preempted by state and federal law, including by not limited to the Illinois Environmental Protection Act, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.”

They claim that they acted according to federal law, arguing that its conduct was licensed and permitted.

Cox seeks compensatory damages of more than $200,000 in her four-count complaint.

Ted N. Gianaris and G. Michael Stewart of Simmons, Browder, Gianaris, Angelides and Barnerd in Alton represent Cox.

Gregg A. Kinney and Larry E. Hepler of HeplerBroom LLC in Edwardsville are representing ConocoPhillips Company, WRB Refining LP, ConocoPhillips WRB Partner LLC and Cenovus GPCO LLC.

Madison County Circuit Court case number 13-L-1730

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