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Illinois town sues over benzene exposure

An Illinois town has filed a lawsuit against Shell Oil and several other defendants, alleging that the companies are responsible for the benzene exposure that has contaminated the town's groundwater and endangered the health and safety of its residents.

According to the lawsuit, which was filed last month in Madison County court, the Village of Roxana claims that the Shell oil refinery has caused unsafe levels of benzene and other chemicals to be present throughout the town. Several residents of Roxana, which is about 20 miles north of St. Louis, have also filed personal injury lawsuits of their own against the company, citing damage to their health and their property values as a result of the company's negligent actions.

The Roxana refinery, which is among the largest of its kind in the country, has been in operation for nearly a century. During that time, it has commonly used benzene to aid in the production of gasoline. Long-term exposure to benzene, a known carcinogen, can result in leukemia and other cancers, as well as damage to the kidneys and inner ears.

In the Roxana lawsuit, the city claims that Shell and its predecessors have failed to protect the health and safety of residents by "intentionally, willfully or negligently failing to contain the oil and oil byproducts within the storage tanks and pipelines associated with the refinery." The city cited at least 18 oil spills within the past 25 years, arguing that they have resulted in the contamination of soil, streets and groundwater, and have penetrated homes through seepage and drains.

The village is seeking damages for trespass, public and private nuisance and unjust enrichment. It is asking a court to order that Shell be responsible for the costs of the cleanup.

Source: Courthouse News Service, "Village Claims Shell Oil Ruined Its Water," Joe Harris, Mar. 29, 2012

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