An environmental contamination case set for trial based on liability under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act ("RCRA") for “passive inaction and studied indifference” recently settled, but the court filings provide a valuable lesson to property owners to address contamination promptly and to document delays outside of their control (such as agency review and approval of work plans) rather than being second-guessed for delays. 

To establish a claim for injunctive relief under RCRA, 42 U.S.C. § 6972(a)(1)(B), a plaintiff must show that: (1) the conditions at the site may present an imminent and substantial endangerment; (2) the endangerment stems from the handling, storage, treatment, transportation, or disposal of any solid or hazardous waste; and (3) the defendant has contributed or is contributing to such handling, storage, treatment, transportation, or disposal.

In Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur v. Garnett-Murray, 2012 WL 2050377 (N.D. Cal. 2012), the Sisters inherited contaminated property through a charitable bequest in a will.  The property was located next to a long-standing dry cleaning business (operated since about 1960) that used tetrachloroethylene (also known as perchloroethylene, perc, or  PCE) in its business until 2009.  PCE from contaminated soil below the dry cleaning business migrated in the form of PCE vapor into the soil beneath the Sisters’ property next door.  From there, the PCE vapor migrated up and into the indoor air of the Sisters’ property.  The PCE vapor inside the Sisters’ property was at a level of 15 times the local Environmental Screening Level.

To learn more. please read Bill Wagner's recent blog post on Commonground.