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Jury: Exxon Should Pay $1.06 Billion

May 22, 2001

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Exxon Mobil Corp. should pay $1.06 billion because of radioactive contamination on 33 acres of land owned by a former state judge, a jury decided Tuesday.

``The jury sent a clear message to Exxon in particular and the oil industry in general that these radioactive materials should and must be cleaned up immediately,″ Stuart Smith, who represents the landowners, said following the verdict in Orleans Parish Civil District Court.

``Evidence in the record indicates that this is a widespread problem affecting oil fields throughout the United States.″

Exxon Mobil, which will appeal, did not deny there was some contamination on land leased from former Jefferson Parish District Judge Joseph Grefer, who lived near the site.

In dispute was the amount of radium 226 and radium 228, how much the clean up would cost, and when Exxon Mobil first knew there may have been a problem.

Exxon Mobil said trace amounts contaminated less than 1 percent of the property and that it could be cleaned up for $46,000. Defense lawyer Gregory Weiss said the company did not know about the contamination until the late 1980s and offered to clean it up, but the Grefers refused, opting instead to take the case before a jury.

Smith and co-counsel Jack Harang told jurors that Exxon Mobil knew about the potential for contamination since the 1950s but said nothing in hopes of avoiding liability for cleanup costs.

The jury ruled the company should pay $56 million for cleanup and $1 billion as punishment for keeping a lid on the radium problem.

The Grefers’ land was leased from the late 1950s until 1992 to Intracoastal Tubular Services, a company contracted to clean Exxon’s pipes. Intracoastal was found 15 percent at fault for the contamination, but the jury ruled Exxon Mobil should pay their share because only the oil giant could have known that the crust being cleaned from the pipes was radioactive.

Lawyers said the judgment is expected to be signed in June, at which time Exxon Mobil will appeal.

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