Oil giant Chevron has been sued in federal court for gross negligence in connection with last week's toxic refinery fire in Richmond, California.
The San Francisco Chroniclereports that the lawsuit was filed in the Contra Costa County Superior Court on Wednesday on behalf of eight local residents who live near the refinery who are suffering from ailments they claim were caused by the August 6 blaze.
The suit, which seeks unspecified damages, claims Chevron is guilty of gross negligence for ignoring what plaintiffs' attorneys claim is a history of safety problems at Crude Unit No. 4, where investigators say a 40-year-old pipe failed, possibly causing the fire.
Prominent Oakland civil rights attorney John Burris called the fire "avoidable."
"This community deserves better," he told the Chronicle. "They should not have been subjected to the fire and the toxins that flowed from it."
Plaintiff Charles Simmons said he was working outside on his car when he heard an explosion and saw black smoke over his head. He then developed a dry throat, diarrhea and a headache lasting hours.
"I would like Chevron to be charged with corporate genocide," Simmons told the Chronicle.
Simmons was one of more than 9,000 area residents who county health officials said visited local hospitals in the wake of the fire. Richmond has a population of 103,701.
The lawsuit notes that there have been 13 Richmond refinery fires and releases of toxic chemicals since 1989.
"The process of government regulators isn't working," Burris told the Chronicle. "If it was, these fires wouldn't keep happening."
Chevron has a long history of environmental and social damage throughout the world. The company was recently ordered to pay $19 billion for environmental and human health damage in the Ecuadorian Amazon, and its annual shareholder meetings are often the target of protests by people from all over the world who claim they've been victimized by Chevron's actions.