Neodesha pegs closed refinery pollution damages at $1 billion

? A southeast Kansas town has estimated its damages from pollution at $1 billion in its lawsuits against BP PLC.

But an attorney for the city of Neodesha said Friday the figure, provided at the oil company’s request, could change dramatically with further research.

“That is the best estimate we have at this time,” said Kansas City-based attorney John M. Edgar. “Obviously this is a very complex case involving pollution from different types of chemicals. … We’ve got a lot of work to do to assess the damage impact from those chemicals.”

That could take a year or more, he said.

Kansas law only allows lawsuits to be filed for less than or more than $75,000, but defendants may request an estimate of damages.

Standard Oil opened the refinery in Neodesha, 92 miles southeast of Wichita, in 1897. It closed in 1970, leaving behind a groundwater plume contaminated with benzene — known to cause cancer — and other chemicals.

The city’s lawsuit, filed March 29 in Wilson County (Kan.) District Court, focuses on cleanup efforts at the site, which it says are inadequate, and the harm the pollution has done to property values and city revenues.

City officials and BP maintain there is no connection between the old refinery site and residents’ health problems, and the suit does not address individual’s health concerns.

State and federal health officials have said the groundwater pollution does not affect the town’s drinking water supply and has not leached into the atmosphere.

Lucille Campbell, a retired schoolteacher who has tried for years to establish a link between cancer cases in Neodesha and the refinery site, disagrees.

“My main thing is and always has been the health issue,” Campbell said. “If the soil and water has been damaged a billion dollars, what’s that done to the people who live there?”

BP spokesman Ron Rybarczyk declined to comment on the lawsuit.