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BEFORE BUYING PROPERTY:
Questions & Answers
Step 1: Gather Preliminary Information (Research)
A: There are several things you can do:
A: One approach would be:
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 their effects:
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 exposure to PBDEs
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 more information.
Q: If I find contamination on my property, am I required to disclose this information when I sell my house?
A: Yes, real estate law requires disclosure of known contamination. Please see:
Step 2: Report the Problem
A: It depends on the type of situation you are dealing with. For example:
A: Please see:
A: For emergency situations (spills of hazardous substances, drug labs), you can expect to be asked:
When reporting all other problems / incidents, you'll need to provide:
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:
Step 3: Assess Your Situation & Evaluate Options
A: Under the Model Toxics Control Act ("MTCA", RCW 70.105D, 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 be:
Frequently, property owners are motivated to do a cleanup (via the Voluntary Cleanup Program) because of:
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:
Q: What constitutes a hazardous waste? How do I find out if the waste discovered is toxic / hazardous?
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 waste issues: Directory of County Health Departments / Districts (External Site)
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
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 Voluntary Cleanup.
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 in:
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).
Q: If I decide to hire an environmental or engineering contractor, how do I go about finding a well-qualified, reputable company?
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:
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.
Q: What assistance does Ecology provide to residential property and small business owners who find contamination on their property ?
A: Please see:
A: You might check:
Step 4: Get the Cleanup Work Done
Q: If I want to clean up my property, where can I safely dispose of contaminated materials (such as soil, wastes, etc.)?
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:
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.
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