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Atlanta Environmental Law Blog

Looking at the Superfund cleanup process, P.4

In our last post, we spoke a bit about when a party can be held liable for cleanup of a contaminated site as well as the extent to which a potentially liable party can be held accountable. As we mentioned, though, there are some circumstances that can lead to reduced or no liability for a contaminating party.

Contamination that can be attributed to an “act of God” or an “act of war,” can limit or eliminate liability, as can contamination which is caused by a third party with no contractual relationship with the potentially responsible party. The latter situation is known as a third-party defense. In addition to these defenses, various exemptions exist for different parties, depending on the circumstances. 

Looking at the Superfund cleanup process, P.3

We are continuing to look at the Superfund cleanup process, particular how the Environmental Protection Agency holds parties accountable for their contributions to toxic waste. We’ve already spoken briefly about the three characteristics of Superfund liability. Now, the question is: when is liability triggered and what exactly is a contaminating party responsible for?

First of all, a party becomes liable for contamination anytime there is hazardous waste at a facility, some of these hazardous wastes are released, the cleanup of these wastes will incur costs, and the party is one of the following: (a) a current owner and operator of the facility; (b) a past owner and operate of a facility at a time when hazardous wastes were disposed; (c) a party who generated the waste or arranged for its disposal or transport; or (d) a transporter of hazardous waste who selected the site where the toxic waste was to be disposed. 

Looking at the Superfund cleanup process, P.2

Last time, we looked briefly at the general outline of the Superfund cleanup process, beginning with the discovery of a potentially contaminated site all the way through completion of cleanup efforts and evaluation of the need for long-term protection of a site. One of the points we’d like to touch on briefly is liability. How does the Environmental Protection Agency go about holding contaminating parties liable?

Under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA, aka “Superfund”) liability is based on whole or partial responsibility for leaving hazardous substances at a site. More than one party can be held liable for contamination, though often the number a potentially liable parties is one or two. There are several qualities of Superfund liability that impact which parties can be held liable. 

Looking at the Superfund cleanup process, P.1

In our previous post, we spoke about a Superfund site on the grounds of the old Linden Chemical Plant near Brunswick, where the least tern population has been found to be contaminated from migration of toxins through the fish supply.

As we noted, the cleanup efforts for that site goes back to 1994, and are still ongoing, showing just how much damage industry can do to the natural environment. The Superfund cleanup process itself involves a number of steps that can obviously take years to work out. The process begins with the discovery of a contaminated site, which oftentimes occurs when the Environmental Protection Agency is notified of possible contamination by state agencies, EPA regional offices or ordinary citizens. 

Researchers find wildlife contamination near contaminated Georgia site

You know the old saying about the canary in a coal mine? Something like that is currently happening along the Georgia coast with a species of bird known as least terns. Researchers from the University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Laboratory have found a blend of toxic chemicals among six nesting populations if last terns in areas surrounding a section of land that used to host the manufacture of insulation materials.

The original source of the contamination, according to researchers, is the now-closed Linden Chemical Plant, which was declared to be a Superfund site back in 1994 after years of spilling toxic waste, including PCBs, heavy metals, and other chemicals. The new research is evidence that the toxic waste extends beyond the bounds of the Superfund site. 

Chattahoochee River-keeper still working to clean up river pollution

We have previously mentioned on this blog that private citizens and groups can have an important role to play in enforcing the Clean Water Act, not only in reporting violations to the Environmental Protection Agency, but also in pursuing what are known as citizen suits. Under the Clean Water Act, private parties may bring actions in federal court against parties who violate the law, including government agencies.

A recent example of a citizen suit is a case initiated by the Chattahoochee River-keeper last summer and ongoing litigation connected to that case. In its complaint last year, the river-keeper accused American Sealcoat Manufacturing of permitting pollution of the river and one of its tributaries and of failing to establish a pollution prevention plan in connection with an Atlanta plant. 

Paper talks about long-term effects of chemical exposure

Chemical exposure is something that all of us have to worry about in our lives, to one extent or another. Whether one is looking at exposure to toxic household products, water pollution, pesticides on our produce, or toxic exposure in the workplace, all of us have to deal with it at some level.

Most of the time, the little bit of exposure we get is not something most of us have to worry about, at least right now. Or so we assume. According to a paper recently published in the journal Endocrinology, though, chemical exposure of parents can have an impact on their child’s development years later. 

Seeking relief for water pollution: work with an experienced attorney

In our last post, we began speaking about the problem of devaluation of lakeside property out in Vermont due to the growth of blue-green algae fueled by excess phosphorus from paved roads, farms, and sewage plants. The story raises the issue of what options homeowners have when they suffer harm—to their property or to themselves—as a result of water pollution.

The answer really depends on the circumstances of the case. It is possible, in some case, to pursue polluting parties under state law. Such claims might be based on theories of trespass, nuisance, negligence, or strict liability, depending on the circumstances of the alleged pollution. While these claims can be viable, it is often easier to pursue water pollution litigation under federal law, particularly the Clean Water Act. 

Water pollution can lead to devaluation of lakeside properties, P.1

Water pollution can have a number of negative effects, including loss of wildlife, health concerns, and loss of natural resources. The impact of any of these effects is obviously greater the more people had been making use and taking advantage of the contaminated water source. Another potential effect of water contamination, and one that can be particularly costly for those affected, is property devaluation.

Water pollution, when it affects lakeside properties, can end up drastically reducing the value of property. That is exactly what is happening for property owners in the Vermont town of Georgia. The problem there seems to be that accumulated runoff from paved roads, farms, sewage plants and other sources has brought in an excess of phosphorus, which has fostered growth of blue green algae.

Clean Power Plan to spur new compliance efforts in power industry

Readers may have heard that President Obama released some of the details of his Clean Power Plan earlier this week. The plan, which was first proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency last year, has the purpose of setting national standards limiting carbon pollution connected to power plants, which are the largest source of emissions.

Prior to the Clean Power Plan, power plants had no limits on carbon emissions. The Clean Power Plan requires power plants to cut carbon dioxide emissions 32 percent from 2005 levels by the year 2030. That is obviously a tall order, and one which will be a challenge for many plants, even given the flexibility built into the plan. 

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