Questions & Answers
Step 1: Gather Preliminary Information (Research)
A: There are several things you can do:
A: One approach would be:
- First, research past uses of the property (using the
Records Search Checklist) to find out
what manner of small or home-based businesses have operated there.
- Knowing the past history may provide clues to chemical contaminants
that may be present. Some information resources that link business
types to likely wastes generated include:
Hazardous Waste: More common than you think
(Step by Step Fact Sheet, .pdf, see table on page 2);
Businesses That Generate Hazardous Waste
(State of Oregon DEQ, .pdf, see page 2);
Contaminated Media, Human Health, and Environmental
(EPA, external web site);
Selected Chemicals -- Common
Uses and Sources
- Later, collect samples and have them analyzed by a lab. You
might collect the samples yourself or you might ask for help from the
Washington state Department of Health or your local health department.
Soil Sampling Guidance for Owners,
Operators and Employees of Small Properties
Where Children Play (.pdf)
Soil Sampling Guidance for Owners, Operators
and Employees of Large Properties Where Children Play (.pdf)
Local Health Departments / Districts Directory (External Site)
Department of Health, Environmental Health Division (External Site)
A: If you are a homeowner, you probably have concerns about the
effects on your family and friends. If you own or manage a small business,
you are probably concerned about your employees' and customers' well-being.
Please check the web pages below for information about specific chemicals and
A: If you suspect that your drinking water is contaminated
(i.e., you notice an unusual taste, odor, or change in quality or color), you
might purchase bottled water or look for an alternate source of water. You
might also check with your local health department (see:
Directory) or the state Department of Health to see if there are
any health advisories in effect in your area.
If you suspect soil contamination, please see:
If you suspect exposure to PBDEs
(Polybrominated diphenyl ethers -- flame
retardant chemicals), see:
A: Some common situations that we see frequently include:
spills of hazardous substances, illegal drug Labs, Leaking Underground Storage
Tanks (LUSTs), home heating oil tanks, and area-wide contamination problems.
Please visit the Common Situations page for
A: Yes, real estate law requires disclosure of known
contamination. Please see:
(It may be advisable to consult with a real estate
attorney if your are buying / selling property that may have
a history of contamination.)
Step 2: Report the Problem
A: It depends on the type of situation you are dealing with.
Emergencies: If you encounter a situation that you believe
is an emergency (such as an uncontrolled spill of a hazardous substance or
drug lab), please go to the
"How to Report a Spill" page immediately and follow the instructions
there. This page includes telephone numbers and a list of questions
you may be asked.
Tanks: Releases of hazardous substances from Leaking
Underground Storage Tanks must be reported to Ecology within 24 hours
of discovery. (Please see specific requirements for reporting
suspected releases (WAC
173-360-360), confirmed releases (WAC
173-360-372), and spills and overfills (WAC
For instructions about how to report leaking tank incidents, please visit
the "How to Report Environmental Problems" page.
Please note that home heating oil tanks are not regulated by Ecology.
Please contact the
Liability Insurance Agency (PLIA) for more information about the latter.
All Other Incidents: Please see:
How to Report Environmental Incidents for instructions. Please
note that all other incidents of contamination or suspected contamination
must be reported to Ecology within 90 days of discovery.
A: Please see:
(Please also see the related question: "How do I
report the discovery of hazardous waste?")
A: For emergency situations (spills of hazardous substances,
drug labs), you can expect to be asked:
- Where is the spill / incident (complete address, directions)?
- What spilled? How much? How concentrated is the spilled material?
- Who spilled the material?
- Is anyone cleaning it up?
- Are there resource damages (such as dead fish or oily birds)?
- Who is reporting the spill and how can they be contacted?
When reporting all other problems / incidents,
you'll need to provide:
- Contact information about the person reporting the problem;
- A Description of the problem / incident and complete location
information (address, directions)
- Information about who may be responsible for the problem / incident
Example Environmental Incident Report Form for one Ecology regional office
A: Again, it depends on the type of situation you are dealing with:
Emergencies (Spills, Drug Labs): The Ecology
program and/or the Department of Health
Drug Lab Cleanup Program and/or your local jurisdiction will
evaluate and respond to emergency situations as quickly as possible.
Voluntary Cleanups (fee-based program): Reports received
under the fee-based Voluntary Cleanup Program
go into a queue in each regional office where they are reviewed on a
first-come, first-served basis. The review process takes about six
months to complete. A satisfactory report will receive a "No Further
Action" determination. You will be contacted regarding further
requirements for incomplete or unsatisfactory reports.
Tanks (Leaking Underground Storage Tanks or LUSTs): Reports
of leaking tanks are referred to the
team for evaluation. You may be contacted for additional information.
The investigator may visit the site to do an inspection or to collect
samples. If petroleum products or other hazardous substances are
present at actionable levels, action must be taken in a timely manner to
All Other Incidents: You may be contacted for follow-up
information. Ecology will conduct an
within 90 days. The investigation may include a site visit and/or
collection of environmental samples. Possible outcomes following the
Initial Investigation include an
Ranking, or a
"No Further Action" decision.
A: The longer the problem goes unreported and unresolved, the
greater the likelihood of worse problems developing. A few examples of
things that might happen as a result of not reporting a problem include:
- The problem may get worse and cost significantly more to clean up later;
- If the contamination moves off-site, you could be sued by the owner(s)
of neighboring properties;
- Banks may not be willing to give loans to improve the property or to a
- You may not be able to sell the property;
- Fines might be levied (depending on the situation and which laws apply);
- Ecology may take enforcement action against the responsible person(s);
- Ecology may step in and do a cleanup, then try to recover costs from the
responsible persons later; etc.
WAC 173-360-170 and
Step 3: Assess Your Situation & Evaluate Options
A: Under the Model Toxics Control Act ("MTCA",
WAC 173-340), those who caused the contamination are held responsible for
cleaning it up. Any past or present relationship with a contaminated site
could result in liability for cleanup. A "potentially liable person" can
- A current or past facility [property] owner or operator.
- Anyone who arranged for disposal or treatment of hazardous substances at
- Anyone who transported hazardous substances for disposal or treatment at
a contaminated site, unless the facility could legally receive the hazardous
materials at the time of transport.
- Anyone who sells a hazardous substance with written instructions for its
use, and abiding by the instructions results in contamination.
- [Further details available in our Focus article:
Model Toxics Control Act Cleanup Regulation:
Process for Cleanup of Hazardous Waste Sites (.pdf; especially pages
Frequently, property owners are motivated to do a cleanup (via the
Voluntary Cleanup Program) because of:
- A situation that poses immediate and serious health
- A desire to prevent impacts to adjacent property;
- The planned purchase or sale of the property; or
- Plans to do a major remodel, building addition, or
Property owners may attempt to recover costs incurred while
conducting a MTCA-equivalent cleanup from other Liable Parties.
You are advised to consult a qualified environmental attorney if
you wish to pursue this option. (See also:
Private Right of Action, .pdf)
A: Please see:
A: Please see:
A: One definition of a 'hazardous substance' is: any
substance that, at a particular concentration or amount, is capable of causing
harm to human health, other living organisms, and/or the environment.
You'll need to determine whether you are dealing with 'solid
waste' (garbage, junk, debris) or toxic / hazardous substances.
Solid waste looks messy and may pose safety risks, but most
likely wouldn't require cleanup under the Model Toxics Control
Act (MTCA). Your local governmental agency (city or
county) would be the most likely source of assistance for solid
Directory of County Health Departments / Districts (External
The presence of toxic / hazardous substances is a much more serious issue.
Please see the Property Inspection Checklist
for examples of clues or evidence to look for.
For more detailed information, see also:
Site Discovery & Reporting, Policy 300
- What can I do myself?
- What can I do with Ecology's assistance?
- What can a cleanup contractor help me with?
A: The type of cleanup work done varies considerably according
to the situation. Cleanups run the gamut from simple, routine cleanups to
very large, complex cleanups. For residential properties and small
businesses, the most often-used cleanup approach is to hire an environmental
consulting firm to help you complete a
Some things you can do yourself are described in the
Small Spill Cleanup Guide (Focus Article, .pdf).
Some common cleanup methods that a cleanup contractor might use are described
Citizen's Guides to Cleanup Methods
External web site: US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA);
Includes links to 21 fact sheets (.pdf documents) that briefly
describe various cleanup methods; both English and Spanish language
versions are available; topics range
from 'Activated Carbon Treatment' to 'Vitrification'.
If you are considering hiring a contractor, please see:
A: Ecology's role varies depending on the situation and the
choices made by the parties involved. For example:
Our preference is to work cooperatively with people to achieve cleanup
solutions. For more specific information, please see the Focus article:
MTCA Cleanup Regulation: Process for Cleanup of Hazardous Waste Sites
(especially pages 2-4).
A: Please see:
A: There can be significant costs involved in cleaning up
contamination and costs vary considerably from one situation to the next.
Some examples of costs you might incur include:
- Voluntary Cleanup Program fees;
- Cleanup contractor professional services costs;
- Laboratory services costs if you have environmental samples analyzed;
- Attorney costs and legal expenses if you seek legal assistance;
- Permit fees if any permits are required to do the cleanup work.
A: Financial assistance may be available through one of these
programs, if you meet the qualifications:
For small businesses with registered heating oil tanks, see the
Pollution Liability Insurance Agency's (PLIA)
Commercial UST page for details about their Tank Reinsurance
Program and Community Assistance Program.
A: Please see:
A: You might check:
Step 4: Get the Cleanup Work Done
A: If you are working with an environmental consultant or
contractor, they should be knowledgeable about how to properly dispose of
hazardous materials. Otherwise, please check:
A: There are a few final details that need to be taken care of
at the end of the cleanup process:
- If everything has gone well with your cleanup, your property should
qualify for a "No Further Action" decision -- a
determination made by Ecology (most often following a successful review of a
Voluntary Cleanup report);
- If your property was listed on the
Hazardous Sites List, it's time
to petition to get it
removed or "de-listed";
- In many cases, there may be additional requirements for longer-term
follow-up, such as long-term monitoring,
Disclaimer: This ‘Guide’ is provided as a service to the public. The
information provided herein is intended to be helpful, but it is not exhaustive
and the user may need to obtain information from additional sources.
Although the ‘Guide’ has undergone review to ensure the quality of the
information provided, there is no assurance that it is free from errors.
This ‘Guide’ cannot be relied upon to create rights, substantive or procedural,
enforceable by any party in litigation with the State of Washington.