Journalism in the Public Interest

Texas City Workers: Chemicals Spewed From Broken Pipe ‘Like Water From a Fire Hydrant’


The Texas City sign is seen with BP's refinery in the background. (Lance Rosenfield/ProPublica)

BP announced yesterday it had reached a “significant milestone” by successfully plugging its ruptured well with heavy drilling mud, but the company’s troubles aren’t over yet. Separate from the lawsuits it faces over the Gulf disaster, BP’s now being sued by workers at its notorious Texas City refinery.

In two lawsuits filed in federal court in Galveston, workers at the refinery allege that BP’s recent toxic release—which, as we reported, occurred two weeks before the Deepwater Horizon blast and went on for 40 days—exposed them to dangerous chemicals that have since caused lingering health problems.

Both lawsuits accuse BP of acting with negligence. One seeks punitive damages of $10 billion. The workers allege that they’re “routinely” exposed to benzene, a carcinogenic constituent of petroleum that has also been detected in the Gulf.

“In order to avoid losing the profit from shutting down an operating unit, and in an attempt to avoid the publicity such a shutdown would have garnered in the financial press, the Defendant instead spewed thousands of pounds of one of the most deadly and nastiest carcinogens into the atmosphere, exposing unsuspecting onsite workers and nearby residents,” read one complaint, filed on behalf of 10 named plaintiffs and more than 2,200 others.The plaintiffs in this larger case are workers at the refinery and people who live or work in Texas City who also say they've been harmed by BP's chemical release.

That complaint also described an August 2009 incident in which a group of workers allegedly found chemicals spewing out of a broken pipe “like water from a fire hydrant.” They were taken to the hospital and later learned they had been exposed to benzene. According to the complaint, at least two more workers were sent to the hospital this past weekend due to another benzene exposure.

When I asked BP about the lawsuit's allegations, the company said it wouldn't be paying any claims related to the Texas City release.

"Based on our underderstanding of the facts and circumstances, BP does not believe there is any basis to pay claims in connection with this event," spokesman Scott Dean told me. During the 40-day release, "the community air monitoring network did not show elevated readings."

According to the Houston Chronicle, the lawsuits aren’t the only recent criticisms aimed at the company over safety concerns at Texas City. Survivors of a 2005 blast at the refinery—which killed 15 workers—say recent events in the Gulf and at the Texas City plant prove the company cannot be trusted; they’re calling on the Justice Department to revoke the terms of BP’s 2007 plea deal for the fatal 2005 accident.

Unreal…...all these trailer trash folks expecting a payday at the expense of BP.

I’d like to see them shut the dam plant down and move away…....


The company now estimates that 538,000 pounds of chemicals escaped from the refinery while it was replacing the equipment. These included 17,000 pounds of benzene, a known carcinogen; 37,000 pounds of nitrogen oxides, which contribute to respiratory problems; and 186,000 pounds of carbon monoxide…....yikes….bummer Texas, the entire Gulf is a disaster, and with a governor like rick perry Texas doesn’t stand a chance regulating big oil. Oddly this wasn’t a very big media event either?

“At the expense of BP”?  Oh, poor large, corporation.  I feel so bad for the company that is destroying the lives of so many individuals (not to mention the environment) due to its negligence.

Oh, and I suppose you met each one of those 2,200 people in order to justify the “trailer trash folk” comment.

Maybe comments should be made with thoughtful introspection as opposed to prejudiced ignorance.

Amen, Bart!  Me & my 2 children are a few of the “trailer trash folks” that Robert (who needs to use spell check, BTW— damn has an “n”) is writing about. We live <3 miles away from the plant & we’ve all been suffering with headaches, migraines, dizziness, & nausea. All 3 of us have been to several dr appts since mid-April.  My migraines (the 1st ones I’ve had since March 2006) have been so bad I’ve missed work, had several tests including an MRI, & spent $$$ I don’t have for co-pays & meds.  I’m starting to believe it’s all due to the crap they let spew in the air for 40 days.  BP has made it clear they don’t care for we “little people”, especially we “trailer trash folks”.

Had it with these criminals!

Aug. 17, 2010, 8:33 a.m.

I’m 6 miles away and I here ya “k” suffering with headaches, migraines, dizziness, & nausea I guess some people would just have to see it and feel it for themselves to believe it. How many people have to get exposed and sick or killed by BP before something is done? Look at their track record this company will never learn its lesson and must be stopped! I don’t blame the industry because you never hear anything like this from Shell or Exxon after the Valdez mess. It all chalks up to worthless and careless employees and mismanagement injury for profit. I wonder why BP never has any problems in Europe? Its always North America all the time from the pipe rupture in Alaska to 2005 explosion and destruction of the Gulf using a banned substance in Europe called “core exit 9500” wonder why they dont use it there but they’ll use it in your waters and backyard and tell you to go swim and eat the seafood!

Whenever I drive into Houston from central TX, there is a point (in a convertible) when you are Really aware that refining is going on!  A few miles later, your nose get acclimatised and, Hey, what smell?

I Really feel for those who have to live it 24:7.

The “trailer trash” comment was very inappropriate.  BP will pay for the claims if they are found to be legitimate.

Almost every business in the United States that has employees has to handle the problem of workers’ compensation. Most states (with a few important exceptions) essentially require employers to purchase an insurance policy to handle their statutory obligations to workers who are injured or made ill due to a workplace exposure. Whether your business is small or large, handling the expense and effort of meeting those statutory obligations is an ever-present challenge.

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The BP oil disaster in the Gulf has had untold health, economic and environmental effects.

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