A woman claims she contracted a disease that could develop into leukemia after being exposed to benzene while growing up near a Shell Oil plant.

Gail Elble filed a lawsuit Aug. 31 in Madison County Circuit Court against Shell Oil Company, BP Products North America, ConocoPhillips Company, WRB Refining and URS Corporation.

In her complaint, Elble claims she grew up in a home at 301 Doerr in Roxana where she lived and "spent a considerable amount of time" from 1976 until 1990. She also attended school in the Roxana community, close to Wood River facilities owned by Shell and BP.

At the facilities, Shell and BP processed and stored benzene, a highly toxic chemical classified as a human carcinogen, according to the complaint.

The same benzene produced at the facilities discharged into the surrounding air and water, causing Elble to be exposed to the pollutant, the suit states.

Because of her exposure, Elble developed myelodysplastic syndrome, a blood and bone marrow disease that sometimes develops into leukemia, the complaint says. Elble was diagnosed with the syndrome in November 2010, the suit states.

Elble claims her disease has caused her to incur medical costs, to face a shortened life expectancy and to sustain mental anguish. She also has missed a substantial amount of work, causing her career to be severely damaged, according to the complaint.

Elble alleges negligence against the defendants, saying they included benzene in their products even though it was a known carcinogen, failed to sufficiently test the effects of benzene on humans living in close proximity to plants and failed to alert her and other residents of air and water contamination.

Elble also alleges willful and wanton conduct against the defendants, saying they released toxic chemicals into the air without attempting to clean them up, minimized and hid the dangers of benzene exposure despite their knowledge of the chemicals and committed numerous environmental violations.

In her two-count suit, Elble seeks a judgment of more than $100,000, plus costs and other relief the court deems just.

Christopher W. Dysart of The Dysart Law Firm in Chesterfield and Kimberly M. Steuterman of Helfrey, Neiers and Jones in St. Louis will be representing her.

Madison County Circuit Court case number: 11-L-867.

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