The hangover from the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is not the only case lingering on BP’s (NYSE:BP) legal docket. In the approximately 48,000 toxic exposure claims that have been filed, nearby residents of the company’s Texas City refinery have alleged that BP intentionally exposed them to cancer-causing gases for a period of five weeks during 2010, with no notice given. Together, they are seeking billions of dollars in punitive damages.
Tony Buzbee, the residents’ lead attorney, told Bloomberg at the beginning of September that BP knowingly released approximately 500,000 pounds of toxic chemicals — including benzene — from an improperly functioning refinery unit at the company’s Texas City refinery plant. Typically, flare stacks are used to burn off such gases, but in this case, the flare was incapable of destroying the toxins, a fact BP knew, according to Buzbee’s allegations.
But BP would have lost more than $20 million if it had closed the refinery unit while making repairs, he argued. “BP decided there was just too much money to be made at the time, so they decided to flare the emissions and take the consequences,” Buzbee said to Bloomberg. Before the trial began, he told the publication that he planed to ask jurors to send BP a message that “the wanton poisoning of an entire community is not an acceptable business practice.”