Whether buying a house or new piece land on which to build your business, you will want to know as much about the property and its previous uses as you can reasonably find out before you put down any money on the property.
One of the worst situations you can get yourself into is buying up land only to find out it is contaminated with hazardous chemicals. Not only can that be detrimental to your health as well as anyone else on the land, but in a worst case scenario you may find the Environmental Protection Agency trying to bill you for clean up work on the land.
When you have found a piece of property you are seriously considering purchasing, you will want to do an investigation of the land. This includes contacting the local health department and your state's environmental protection agency for any information they may have about the property and its history of usage. You may also consider hiring a specialist to go through the property and look for asbestos, radon, lead-based paint, and other hazardous materials.
Can the EPA Hold Me Liable for Hazardous Chemicals on My Property?
If hazardous chemicals stemming from your property are released into the surrounding environment, your knowledge (or lack thereof) of the chemicals or release will have very little impact in determining whether you are responsible for paying for the cleanup.
The Environmental Protection Agency imposes what is called "joint and several" liability on all potential sources of contamination. This means that any person, organization, or previous or current owners of the property that could be the cause of the hazardous chemicals on the property and their release into the surrounding environment, are potentially liable for the cost of the cleanup. It gets even worse if you are the only party that is able to pay the cost of cleanup, either because you are the only one who can be located or are the only one who can afford it.
However, due to the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act, those who purchased the property after the contamination took place are not liable for the cleanup. Keep in mind, though, that you will still need to be sure you know when the contamination took place and that your use of the property had no impact in spreading the contamination to other areas of the community in any way.
Should I Contact an Attorney?
It is important that you contact an attorney who specializes in environmental law. This is a very complex area of law, and the consequences can be devastating financially for anyone who has to share the burden (or possibly bare it all themselves) of the cost of the cleanup process. Your real estate attorney will able to advise you of your rights and help you decide what the most prudent course of action to take would be.