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Plaintiff in suit against Shell dies

Disher’s complaint alleges that Shell has known about the dangers of benzene causing cancer for decades but, despite its knowledge, publicly minimized and hid the dangers. Shell has denied the key allegations in the suit but acknowledges that benzene in certain amounts may be a carcinogen.

By SANFORD J. SCHMIDT March 19, 2012 6:57 PM

EDWARDSVILLE – A 28-year-old East Alton man who sued Shell Oil Co. and others for allegedly causing his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma has died of the disease.

“The complaint will now, sadly, be converted to a wrongful death case,” said Chris Dysart, his attorney.

John “Zac” Disher died March 3 at the Siteman Center in St. Louis. He was the son of Terry and Kathy (Dorsey) Disher of Rosewood Heights.

He was an avid sports fan and member of the grounds crew at Busch Stadium for the six years prior to his death.

Disher was one of several plaintiffs in the past year to file lawsuits in Madison County Circuit Court against Shell Oil Co. and others, claiming benzene leaks around the oil refinery caused their cancers.

Disher attended third grade through high school at buildings in the Roxana School District adjacent to the Shell Oil Co. refinery.

The complaint states Disher had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Disher was the first of Dysart’s Madison County clients who had been diagnosed with that form of cancer. Others have been diagnosed with other blood cancers. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system.

The lymphatic system and the cardiovascular system are closely related structures that are joined by a capillary system. Lymphoma is considered one of several blood cancers. Other plaintiffs claim they have various forms of leukemia.

The complaints claim that Shell and BP Amoco have known about the dangers of benzene causing blood diseases but publicly have minimized the risks. Each plaintiff is asking for damages well in excess of $50,000.

Disher’s complaint alleges that Shell has known about the dangers of benzene causing cancer for decades but, despite its knowledge, publicly minimized and hid the dangers. The complaint also alleges Shell has known about the dangers posed by airborne benzene because of a high incidence of cancer at its Wood River Refinery in the 1970s and benzene vapors entering homes and other property since it performed studies concerning vapor intrusion in the 1980s.

Dysart and other lawyers have filed a class action lawsuit against Shell and other area refiners, claiming the environmental problems in the area have lowered property values.

The cancer complaints allege the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. EPA have cited Shell for numerous environmental violations for its operations at the Wood River Refinery in Roxana. Most recently, in May 2008, the Illinois EPA cited Shell for violating the Illinois Environmental Protection Act 41 times by exceeding the standards for the release of benzene, ethylbenzene, toulene and xylene into the groundwater of Roxana, Dysart claims in the complaints.

The suits claim that in May 2010, the Illinois Department of Public Health sent a letter to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency that states a report prepared in February 2010 for Shell by its URS contractor for public consumption on the Internet set forth misleading conclusions.

The agency “strongly disagreed” with the website posting that said the soil vapors in Roxana do not pose a risk.

The problem of refinery emissions in Roxana came into sharper focus last summer as the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency dug test wells and took other actions to detect possible leaks in the area.

State officials said they have detected some emissions recently, but they have downplayed the level and danger of those emissions.

An IEPA official said the agency has been closely monitoring the area around the plant since a benzene release in 1986, when the plant was owned by Shell Oil Co.

Shell has denied the key allegations in the suit but acknowledges that benzene in certain amounts may be a carcinogen.

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