Toxicologist: Benzene levels from 2010 BP emission 'not toxic'

By John Suayan, Galveston Bureau | Oct 4, 2013

GALVESTON - A toxicologist testifying on behalf of BP said Oct. 3 that the exposure levels from a release of chemicals at the Texas City refinery were not lethal or high enough to jeopardize people's health.

Dr. David Pyatt told jurors in the four-week old trial that the benzene released between April and May 2010 was not toxic to the Texas City residents or the refinery workers.

"The exposure levels that I saw reported in the monitoring and reflected in the model are not toxic," he said. 

"There is no evidence that those levels of benzene can hurt anybody ever."

While some benzene exposure may be problematic to the blood, Dr. Pyatt explained, it may not increase a person's risk of developing leukemia "even if the exposure levels were really high."

More than 50,000 claimants allege they were exposed to a chemical leak of about 540,000 pounds of chemicals and compounds — including at least 17,000 pounds of benzene — after the hydrogen compressor in the refinery’s ultracracker unit went offline on April 6, 2010.

Each original petition shows the event lasted for six weeks.

Lead plaintiffs’ attorney Tony Buzbee of The Buzbee Law Firm in Houston stressed that BP prioritizes profits over people to which the defendant believes is untrue.

The petrochemical company's legal team, headed by Cleveland, Ohio-based attorney Damond R. Mace, insisted the company tried to make the effort “to be a good neighbor” to the citizens of Texas City and surrounding areas. BP sold the refinery to Marathon Oil in February 2013.

The trial, which has been going on since Sept. 11, is centered on four selected claimants.

Billed as a "test" trial, its outcome will set the precedent for how the other cases will proceed, according to Galveston County 56th District Court Judge Lonnie Cox, who is presiding.

Dr. Pyatt, who taught at the high school and college levels, also talked about dose-response, which he used to arrive at his conclusions about benzene, stating it exists virtually everywhere.

He pointed out that even fruits contain some benzene, and people usually breathe it in and out quickly.

Compared to the benzene output of 40 percent by cigarettes, industry produces just 3 percent, Dr. Pyatt stated.

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