Questions & Answers

Step 1:  Gather Preliminary Information (Research)

Q:  How do I find out more about what's on my property?  Back to FAQ

A:  There are several things you can do:


Q:  If I find contamination on my property, how do I find out what types of chemicals are there?  Back to FAQ

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);
Contaminated Media, Human Health, and Environmental Effects (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.  See also:

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)


Q:  How do I find out if the contamination might harm people or pets?  Back to FAQ

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:


Q:  What precautions can I take to reduce the exposure for my family?  Back to FAQ

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:

See Also:


Q:  What are some common situations or scenarios that occur repeatedly?  Back to FAQ

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?  Back to FAQ

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

Q:  How do I report the discovery of hazardous waste?  Back to FAQ

A:  It depends on the type of situation you are dealing with.  For example:

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 173-360-375)). 

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 Pollution Liability Insurance Agency (PLIA) for more information about them.

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.


Q:  How do I find out if my situation needs to be reported to Ecology?  Back to FAQ

A:  Please see: 

(Please also see the related question:  "How do I report the discovery of hazardous waste?")   


Q:  What information do I need to know before reporting the problem / incident?  Back to FAQ

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


Q:  What happens after I've reported the problem to Ecology?  Back to FAQ

A:  Again, it depends on the type of situation you are dealing with:

Emergencies (Spills, Drug Labs):  The Ecology Spill Response 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 Initial Investigations 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 remove them.

All Other Incidents:  You may be contacted for follow-up information.  Ecology will conduct an Initial Investigation within 90 days.  The investigation may include a site visit and/or collection of environmental samples.  Possible outcomes following the Initial Investigation include an Emergency Action, Interim Action, Site Hazard Assessment and Ranking, or a "No Further Action" decision.


Q:  What are the consequences of not reporting the problem?  Back to FAQ

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 prospective buyer;
  • 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. 

See also:  WAC 173-360-170 and WAC 173-340-540


Step 3:  Assess Your Situation & Evaluate Options

Q:  Who is responsible for cleaning up my property?  Back to FAQ

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:

  • A current or past facility [property] owner or operator.
  • Anyone who arranged for disposal or treatment of hazardous substances at the site.
  • 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 2-3)]

Frequently, property owners are motivated to do a cleanup (via the Voluntary Cleanup Program) because of:

  • A situation that poses immediate and serious health risks;
  • 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 significant re-landscaping. 

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)


Q:  What can property owners do to test their property?  Back to FAQ

A:  Please see:


Q:  How do I find out if my private well or water supply is contaminated?  Back to FAQ

A:  Please see:


Q:  What constitutes a hazardous waste? How do I find out if the waste discovered is toxic / hazardous?  Back to FAQ 

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


Q:  What cleanup options are available to me? Back to FAQ

  • 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 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:

  • 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 'Vertical Engineered Barriers'.

If you are considering hiring a contractor, please see: 


Q:  What is Ecology's role in the cleanup process?  Back to FAQ

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?  Back to FAQ

A:  Please see:


Q:  What costs or fees are associated with cleaning up the toxic waste?  Back to FAQ

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.


Q:  Is there any financial assistance available to help pay for cleaning up my property?  Back to FAQ

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 (PLIA) web site for details about their commercial UST programs (financial responsibility, reinsurance, loans and grants).


Q:  What assistance does Ecology provide to residential property and small business owners who find contamination on their property ?  Back to FAQ

A:  Please see:


Q:  Where else might I look for assistance?  Back to FAQ

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.)?  Back to FAQ

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:


Q:  What else do I need to do after the cleanup work has been completed?  Back to FAQ

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.