Water and ground pollution are being discussed everywhere as more research is done discovering the harmful effects of certain commonly used chemicals. Here in New Hampshire, the Department of Environmental Services (DES) is working to implement new, lower, allowable levels of certain perfluoro-chemicals in drinking water. The rule making proposal was submitted earlier this summer after extensive research, and if approved by the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules (JLCAR) will take effect on October 1, 2019. While these rules only apply to public water systems, DES is encouraging private well owners to have their wells tested against the new standards.
So, who is responsible for cleaning up chemicals in private drinking water? What about other environmental hazards such as oil, gasoline, heavy metals, asbestos, and other compounds? Ultimately, the property owner. However, if the property owner can determine who actually caused a contamination then a civil action for cost recovery can be initiated and end up shifting the cleanup burden to the responsible party. So, if the contamination in private well water, soil, or older structures can be traced to a nearby company or prior owner, then the company or prior owner can be required to either pay for cleanup directly or reimburse the property owner for costs already incurred during cleanup or mitigation.
It is also the property owner’s responsibility to investigate and report any contamination found in water, soil, or air. DES will work with the property owner to determine the extent of the contamination on the property, and the best method for cleanup. Proper disposal of common household hazards is also required and excludes burning materials which could emit harmful compounds into the air.
Larger scale contamination may lead to a property being classified as a “Brownfield” and though Brownfield status might limit the use of a property, it can also allow the property to become eligible for some state or federal funding for cleanup. If the contamination is severe enough, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may deem the site a Superfund site and take control of cleanup. The goal of both the Brownfields program and Superfund is to fully address contaminations on a property, and rehabilitate the property to full use.
There are several federal and state regulations regarding proper disposal, clean up, and use of many hazardous materials. Navigating these regulations can be challenging and clean up or fines can be costly. A lawyer knowledgeable in environmental regulations can help guide a property owner through the process.