Lawsuit claims benzene leak caused woman’s cancer
The Alton Telegraph
Author: SANFORD J. SCHMIDT
A Bethalto woman who formerly lived in Wood River has filed suit in Madison County Circuit Court, claiming leaked benzene from the former Shell refinery caused her cancer.
The lawsuit is one of several personal injury suits filed by St. Louis attorney Chris Dysart and others, claiming the benzene caused a blood cancer.
The most recent suit was filed by Trudy Lehnen, 61, of Bethalto, who has multiple myeloma that she claims is a result of benzene coming from Shell Oil Co. and BP Products North American.
This unit is designed to treat volatile organic compounds, odors and other airborne pollutants. It features a special carbon blend and a HEPA filter for particles.
The suit, like other, similar suits, claims the refineries released benzene into the air, groundwater and ground beneath her former Wood River home and the Roxana schools she attended.
She was diagnosed with the disease in July 1999 but did not learn of the connection between the disease and her cancer until reading about an ongoing Illinois Environmental Protection Agency investigation of a benzene leak in Roxana in a newspaper article in and around November or December 2011.
The four-count suit asks for at least $50,000 in damages on each count.
The suit claims she has a shortened life expectancy, missed work, mental anguish, medical bills and will have to undergo lifelong medical treatment.
Lehnen lived in the 500 block of Seventh Street, Wood River, from 1951 to 1974. She attended grade school through high school in Roxana from 1956 to 1970. The schools are just across the street from the former Shell refinery.
The current operators of the Wood River Refinery, Phillips 66, were not named as defendants in the suit.
Shell and BP have answered some of the suits and denied any wrongdoing, although the companies acknowledge that exposure to benzene in large amounts for a significant period of time can be associated with certain blood cancers.
Shell is working with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to clean up pollutants around its former plant in Wood River. The company claims it has taken appropriate measures to avoid danger to neighboring residents.
The lawsuits filed in Madison County Circuit Court claim the refiners were responsible for allowing thousands of pounds of benzene and other benzene-containing pollutants to be emitted, leaked, spilled, dumped and otherwise discharged into the air, surface and ground water.
The suits claim the continual leaks caused a plume of benzene-containing pollutants to extend beyond the boundaries of the refineries.
There also is a pending class action lawsuit and a pending suit filed by the village of Roxana over alleged benzene pollution in the area.
The problem of refinery emissions in Roxana has come into sharper focus since 2011, as the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has been digging test wells and taking other actions to detect possible leaks in the area.
Three homes have been bought out and demolished to make way for new pumping facilities.
An IEPA official said the agency has been monitoring the area around the plant closely since a benzene release in 1986, when the plant was owned by Shell Oil Co.
Shell has agreed to pick up the tab for the monitoring, because that company was the owner during the significant 1986 benzene release.