Class action against Premcor alleges pollution caused children's' asthma

David Yates Nov. 19, 2007, 9:50am

Jim Blackburn

Roughly 100 Port Arthur residents have banded together and filed suit against The Premcor Refining Group, alleging the company's refinery has illegally bombarded area neighborhoods, schools and churches with "toxic" pollution.

The plaintiffs in the suit claim the refinery's toxic releases have inflicted them or their children with asthma. A few of the plaintiffs in the suit recently reached the age of 18 and are bringing claims in their own name.

The class action lawsuit, Eva Brown et al vs. The Premcor Refining Group Inc., was filed in the Jefferson County District Court on Nov. 16.

The Port Arthur refinery in question was originally the first Gulf Oil refinery, built shortly after the Spindletop gusher in 1901. Subsequent owners of the plant have been Chevron, Clark and Premcor before Valero took ownership in 2005.

"Over the course of at least the last seven years, Defendant, on numerous occasions, has had upset events, maintenance events and un-permitted releases of toxic and harmful substances, including but not limited to sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide and volatile organic compounds into the neighborhood and homes, daycare centers, schools, and houses of worship of Plaintiffs," the suit said.

"Some of the release events have been so serious that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has issued notices of enforcement and/or notices of violation against Defendant."

The suit accuses Premcor of causing and/or exacerbating the plaintiffs' asthma, upper respiratory, sinus, bronchitis, pneumonia, allergy and rhinitis conditions.

Premcor attorney Michael Eaves has already submitted an answer in response, denying "each and every allegation" and demanding strict proof of the plaintiffs' accusations.

The plaintiffs' petition continues by claiming Premcor negligently failed to prevent the release of the dangerous-toxic emissions.

"The Texas Administrative Code states: 'No person shall discharge from any source whatsoever one or more air contaminants or combinations thereof, in such concentrations and of such duration as are or may tend to be injurious to or to adversely affect human health or welfare, animal life, vegetation, or property, or as to interfere with normal use and enjoyment of animal life, vegetation or property,'" the suit says.

The four-count suit faults Premcor with negligence and gross negligence, nuisance and trespass.

"Defendant's voluntary and intentional conduct…caused trespass onto the Plaintiffs' property," the suit said. "The aforementioned conduct and activities constituted wrongful entry onto Plaintiffs' properties and is an unlawful violation of Plaintiffs' rights, because Defendant had no right to possession of Plaintiffs' property and this intrusion was without Plaintiffs' consent."

The plaintiffs are suing for punitive damages, plus mental anguish, medical expenses and loss of earning capacity damages.

They are in part represented by attorney James Blackburn, Jr. of the Blackburn Carter law firm.

Eaves in a partner in the Calvert Eaves Clarke & Stelly law firm.

Judge Donald Floyd, 172nd Judicial District, has been assigned to the case.

Case No. E180-771

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