John Suayan, Galveston Bureau Sep. 18, 2013, 10:19am

GALVESTON - A woman who is among the many Galveston County residents claiming to have been affected by a 2010 toxic event at the now-former BP Texas City refinery took the stand Sept. 16.

For nearly half an hour the morning of the fourth day into what is billed as a "test" trial, Mary Brooks shared her experiences during the alleged six-week emission which began on April 6, 2010, with jurors, asserting a "peculiar, sweet" smell got into her chest.

Brooks, who runs a day care from home and was recently widowed, told the Galveston County 56th District Court that the purported smell was strong in certain parts of Texas City.

She said the odor prompted the children under her care to refuse to play outdoors.

Brooks's residence and day care facility are reportedly nine blocks from the refinery, which BP sold to Marathon Petroleum Corp. to the tune of $2.4 billion last February.

Toward the end of her testimony, Brooks and defense attorney Kenneth Tekell of Tekell, Book, Allen & Morris LLP in Houston, a member of the petrochemical company's legal team, had a small exchange over what she said in a deposition.

More than more than 50,000 people sued over the emissions for at least $200,000 in damages, each original petition stating the hydrogen compressor in the refinery’s ultracracker unit went offline and subsequently caused a chemical leak.

It took six weeks to stop the leak, after about 540,000 pounds of chemicals and compounds — including at least 17,000 pounds of benzene — had been released into the facility and neighboring area, according to the suit.

Brooks's attorney and plaintiffs' lead counsel, Tony G. Buzbee of The Buzbee Law Firm in Houston, accused BP of prioritizing profits while his counterparts on the defense insisted the petrochemical company had nothing to do with the release.

Officials estimate the trial to last approximately six weeks.

Presiding judge Lonnie Cox said the trial's outcome will set the precedent for how the other cases would proceed.

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