The U.S. Supreme Court has recently declined to consider a case centering on the question of when a citizens' group may challenge an ongoing environmental remediation under the federal Superfund law. The Court's decision lets stand a May 2014 ruling by the Seventh Circuit that chipped away at Superfund's general prohibition on legal challenges to ongoing removal or remedial actions.
Despite - even because of - their useful properties, perfluorinated chemicals ("PFCs") are increasingly thought to be dangerous for the environment, and potentially humans. PFCs are manmade substances with the ability to repel both water and oils, and are responsible for the stain repellant properties of your rug, the sauce-resistant properties of your takeout container, and the nonstick properties of your frying pan.
Fixed contaminant standards need not be reached, much less exceeded, in order to cause an injury that courts can recognize. An intermediate appeals court in New York has ruled that the Suffolk County Water Authority may sue chemical companies for groundwater contamination even where the contamination does not exceed an EPA drinking water standard known as a Maximum Contaminant Level. However, this may be a pyrrhic victory, as that same court also ruled that many of the SCWA's claims were too late under New York's three-year statute of limitations for injuries from latent effects of exposure to harmful substances.
In a triumph of environmental responsibility and justice over corporate attempts to disclaim environmental liabilities, the former Kerr-McGee Corporation has been ordered to clean up after itself.
Can a party who is not the holder of a certain environmental permit be required to perform the obligations set out in that permit? The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation thought so, and argued as much in the case of a property owner who had purchased land where a hazardous waste storage facility had operated years earlier. The purchaser, Thompson Corners, LLC, had never held a permit to operate the facility, which had closed years before the purchase, and was never required to obtain one.
How many remediation angels can dance on a single remediation pinhead? In the recent NL Industries v. ACF Industries ruling, a federal judge in the Western District of New York decided that, for the purposes of CERCLA cost recovery and declaratory judgment claims, all actions taken to clean up a Superfund site constitute one set of remedial actions, regardless of the number of "operable units" the site is divided into during the remediation.
Love Canal, New York; Cuyahoga River, Ohio; Times Beach, Missouri; Hopewell, Virginia; Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania. These are the sites of some of the worst environmental contamination in our nation's history. Each of these disasters drew significant public attention, and incited the political will to confront similar environmental hazards more systematically.
The health threats posed by physical contact with contaminated soil or groundwater are well known. But increasingly, state and federal regulators are recognizing that harmful vapors from such contamination can be drawn into nearby buildings and pose a threat to the occupants. Known as soil vapor intrusion, this threat can come from undiscovered contamination beneath a building, or even from the remnants of previously remediated soil or groundwater.
Many insurance policies contain a "pollution exclusion" which seeks to exclude coverage for losses arising from pollution, except in the case of a "sudden and accidental" release. "Sudden and accidental" may bring to mind a burst pipe or overturned tanker truck, but a recent decision in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York suggests that the interpretation can be much more complicated.