Roughly half of our work is on sites driven by state environmental laws and enforcement agencies. State sites typically involve 1 to 10 parties, and tens of thousands to several million dollars. Often they involve underground storage tanks (USTs) or aboveground storage tanks (ASTs) containing petroleum or other hazardous substances. The background of these sites varies widely, including present and former gas stations, dry cleaners, and residential fuel oil tanks. We have nearly 30 years of experience in responding to legal problems of this nature.
Our clients include individuals and businesses that own or operate contaminated property. Often the potentially liable parties did not know about the contamination, which may have been caused years earlier by a prior or adjacent owner. They may first learn of the problem when they go to sell their property, or when the contamination comes to the attention of the state enforcement agency. In these situations the present owner may or may not be liable, but they nearly always have a challenging legal problem.
State environmental cleanup issues often come up during the purchase or sale of real estate. If property is contaminated, the owner, including a new owner, is potentially liable for the cost of cleanup, regardless of whether they had any connection to the source of the contamination. In these situations, it is important to have the help of a lawyer who has a focused environmental law practice. We have extensive experience in this area, representing and advising purchasers, sellers and lenders in transactions involving potentially contaminated real estate.
Some examples of common state enforcement situations that our clients face include:
• Oil tank leaks: Many commercial and residential properties contain old underground storage tanks. These tanks are often more than 30 years old and contained gasoline, fuel oil, or other oil-based products. Before newer designs were implemented, these tanks and connected piping often leaked, or were overfilled, leading to soil and groundwater contamination.
• Dry cleaners: Highly toxic chemicals were a part of the dry cleaning process for most of the 20th century. The chemicals were frequently released to soil and groundwater, sometimes through deliberate dumping, sometimes through spills, and often through disposal into septic systems.
• Unknown prior operations:It has become common practice for purchasers of commercial real estate to conduct environmental due diligence to determine whether prior owners or lessees of the property caused, or may have caused, contamination. Unfortunately, before the advent of environmental due diligence, many people purchased property without knowing of prior operations, such as gas stations, dry cleaners, machine shops, vehicle storage and fueling, filling with sludge or other contaminated material, and industrial activities. The current owner is often liable for the cost of cleaning up contamination from these former operations. Even if they are not liable, they have to clean up the property before they can sell it.
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