Fifteen residents of Corpus Christi, Texas – so ill from the effects of long-term exposure to pollution that they have been deemed crime victims – have requested that Citgo Petroleum Corp. be forced to establish a multimillion-dollar trust fund to cover the cost of victims’ medical care and relocation. In 2007, a jury convicted Citgo of criminal charges involving violations of the Clean Air Act, concluding that the company’s refinery in Corpus Christi allowed toxic chemicals to drift from two large, uncovered storage tanks into a nearby neighborhood for nearly ten years. According to the Justice Department, Citgo made more than $1 billion in profits during the decade that it operated in violation of the Clean Air Act. In the meantime, residents complained of dizziness, vomiting and shortness of breath, while they breathed in the carcinogen benzene and other harmful chemicals from the Citgo refinery.
In response to Citgo’s criminal violations, the Department of Justice proposed a fine of more than $2 million, and Citgo was set to be sentenced in September 2012. However, lawyers for the affected Texas residents asked U.S. District Judge John D. Rainey to grant the residents status as crime victims so they could testify at the sentence hearing and possibly recover compensation from Citgo. Last year, Rainey declined a request to grant the Texas residents crime-victim status, claiming that they hadn’t provided evidence that emissions from Citgo were the “specific cause of their ailments.” In September however, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit granted a petition stating that the affected residents were, in fact, crime victims, and instructed Rainey to consider new arguments raised by the petition.
According to a court filing in early October, lawyers for the 15 Corpus Christi residents are seeking $80,000 from Citgo for medical screening costs. They have also asked Rainey to force Citgo to set up an $11 million trust fund to cover the cost of cancer treatment and necessary medical care for other illnesses developed by the more than 300 individuals who have submitted victim impact statements to the federal court. In addition, the victims’ attorneys are asking that Citgo set aside $15 million to cover the cost of relocation for those who wish to leave the area known as Refinery Row. Court documents state the following: “[B]ecause of Citgo’s crimes, many of the community victims no longer live in a thriving neighborhood, they live in fear that they will be exposed to more chemicals released into the air they breathe, and they understandably wish to move.”
In a news release issued in early October, the Justice Department said that “any member of the community at large who believes they may be a crime victim” in the Citgo case should submit a victim impact statement to the court by November 4. “In this instance,” the Department said, “community members may be considered crime victims based on the immediate negative health effects they suffered from breathing noxious fumes from Tanks 116 and 117 during the 1994-2003 time frame.” The Citgo refinery case is the perfect example of dangerous environmental contamination putting the lives and well-being of innocent people at risk. If you have suffered an illness or injury because of environmental contamination in Corpus Christi, or elsewhere in Texas, contact our experienced environmental contamination attorneys at Bandas Law Firm today.
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