By Alex Fees
Roxana, IL (KSDK) - A class action lawsuit filed in Illinois State Court in Madison County Friday alleges that Shell Oil Company released toxic chemicals, including benzene, into the ground water beneath an oil refinery 25 years ago and did nothing to clean it up.
The complaint names Shell Oil Company and BP Products North America, Inc., as the defendants. It alleges that in 1986, when Shell owned an oil refinery plant in Roxana, it released 8,400 gallons of pure benzene from an underground pipeline that extended from the Wood River Refinery to a barge loading facility on the Mississippi River.
Patricia Ford and her husband built a home in Roxana four years later. She says a compromised immune system and recurring health problems are a result of benzene exposure.
"I kept getting one infection after the other," said Ford. "I'd get one respiratory infection; it would go away. Then it would come right back."
"I got on the CDC website and that's one of the things it can do is decrease your antibodies. That's one of the things it does to people."
Ford believes the benzene has been entering the home she share with her husband and their son through a drain in the basement.
"It smells really bad when it happens," said Ford. "It smells like raw sewage. A lot of times it's so bad it fills the whole house, and it's given us headaches."
Illinois EPA-ordered testing last month prompted officials to urge some Roxana residents not to sleep in their basements due to the presence of benzene.
Chris Dysart is an attorney representing plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit.
"Between 1986 and the last couple years Shell did absolutely nothing to try to reduce the benzene in the groundwater or to prevent it from spreading under the neighborhoods in Roxana," Dysart said.
In addition to wondering and worrying about what impact gases like benzene have on her health, Ford also wonders about the impact it will have on property values for her and her husband, and their neighbors.
"Am I going to be able to sell my house?" said Ford. "I don't think so. Because who's going to want to buy a house knowing it sits on a big pool of benzene?"
Attorney Dysart said testing has shown Roxana workers have had a higher-than-normal frequency of leukemia.
NewsChannel 5 tried--unsuccessfully--to reach officials with Shell Oil Company and BP. In the past, Shell officials said there have been many investigations into this situation and the testing last month is part of on-going remediation.