On October 31, the Maryland Department of the Environment (“MDE”) published a proposed regulation calling for reporting of hazardous substances found in the environment — that is, site contamination. A routine investigation of real estate could trigger this obligation because the reporting thresholds would be concentrations of the hazardous substance, not quantities.

Section 103 of the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, 42 U.S.C. § 9603, requires a person in charge of a facility to report a release of more than a reportable quantity of a hazardous substance. A “reportable quantity” is just that — a quantity. 40 C.F.R. pt. 302 sets out those reportable quantities for each listed hazardous substance in pounds and kilograms. Thus, if one observes a release of a knowable or calculable mass of material, one may have a duty to report. Just finding a few parts per million in a small sample of soil or a few parts per billion in a sample of groundwater, however, does not necessarily result in knowledge of (a) a release at any particular time or (b) the quantity released.

MDE would set reporting thresholds in concentrations. So, a soil sample containing more milligrams per kilogram or a groundwater sample containing more milligrams per liter of the hazardous substance would trigger the requirement to report the analytical result to MDE.

“Responsible persons” would have the reporting obligation. “Responsible persons” under section 7-201 of the Environment Article are essentially the familiar four categories of responsible persons under CERCLA: current owners and operators, owners and operators at the time of disposal, arrangers, and transporters. A seller of real estate who learned of a test result might have to report it. The purchaser probably would not if the purchaser did not close the transaction; after the closing, of course, the purchaser would be a “responsible person.”

The rule proposal appears at 41 Md. Reg. 1337 (Oct. 31, 2014), and would amend COMAR 26.14.02. You can read a copy here.

The proposed reporting thresholds are not published in the Maryland Register, but appear in June 2014 guidance document posted on the MDE website here.

The comment period on this proposal closes on December 1, 2014.