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Exxon Mobil Ordered to Pay $236 Million for Contaminating Groundwater in New Hampshire

Jury finds oil giant negligent for putting additive in gasoline without warning of its risks. Exxon Mobil was found liable in a lawsuit over groundwater contamination caused by the gasoline additive MTBE. The oil giant was ordered to pay $236 million to New Hampshire to remedy the pollution. Jurors reached their verdicts in less than 90 minutes, after sitting through nearly three months of testimony in the longest state trial in New Hampshire history. MTBE was added to gasoline to reduce smog but was found to travel farther and faster in groundwater than gasoline without the additive — issues for which, the jury concluded, the company should have provided warnings. Exxon Mobil said it plans to appeal. The Associated Press, Bloomberg

Senators strike deal to expand background checks of gun buyers. The deal by Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania set the stage for a likely Senate debate on gun control measures starting Thursday, when an attempt by conservative Republicans to block a bill from reaching the floor is expected to be defeated. The background checks proposal appears to be President Obama’s best hope for gun-control legislation following the December massacre of 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Conn. The senators said their measure would expand criminal background checks to include sales made at gun shows and online, although sales among friends or family members would remain exempt. Reuters

Air pollution is an underestimated scourge that kills far more people than AIDS and malaria, UN officials say. The United Nations officials, appearing at a conference in Oslo, said a shift to cleaner energy could easily halve by 2030 the 6 million premature deaths annually from air pollution while also slowing climate change. Indoor pollution, a big part of the problem, often is caused by wood fires and primitive stoves in developing nations, with women and children the main victims. The estimated 6 million deaths worldwide reflect an upward revision of previous figures based on better measurements and new counting procedures, such as including heart problems linked to pollutants. Reuters

Advocacy groups to launch campaign prodding big retailers to pull products containing hazardous chemicals. The nearly four dozen health and environmental groups are taking aim at 10 U.S. retailers, including Walmart, Target and Costco. Advocates say these companies have taken some measures — such as halting sales of baby products with the hormone-disrupting chemical BPA —  but argue more needs to be done. They list 100-plus chemicals used in hundreds, possibly thousands, of products including wrinkle-free clothes, vinyl flooring, shampoos, sofa cushions and food packaging. The advocacy groups involved include the Breast Cancer Fund, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition. USA Today

Chemical safety bill to be introduced. The bill by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., would update the Toxic Substances Control Act, or TSCA, a law from the 1970s that never has been updated. Today more than 80,000 chemicals are in common use but regulators can call for safety testing only after evidence of potential danger. The result: Testing has been required on only about 200 chemicals, and only five have been regulated or banned. “American families deserve to know that the chemicals found in everyday products are safe. But because of our broken laws, toxic chemicals that have been linked to cancer and other serious diseases make their way into our homes,” said Lautenberg, 89, a longtime TSCA reform proponent in his last Senate term, in a statement. The Philadelphia Inquirer

Another year passes without mine safety reforms promised by lawmakers after the April 2010 Upper Big Branch disaster. The nation’s worst mine disaster in 40 years, the West Virginia mine explosion — ignited by methane gas and fed by excessive coal dust — took 29 lives. Official reports blamed a corporate culture at the mine’s then-owner, Massey Energy, that put production before safety. The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration also was blamed for failing to fully apply its legal authority. “It is a travesty that we have reached this point so long after this tragedy occurred and Congress still has not done anything to improve mine safety and health laws,” said Cecil Roberts, head of the United Mine Workers union. NPR

Compiled by Stuart Silverstein