The list of chemicals which are considered hazardous is quite lengthy. An individual can check their local or federal hazardous waste agencies for a complete list of substances.
Examples of hazardous waste substances may include:
These substances may create injury hazards as well as health risks through various mechanisms related to the chemical or substance, which may include:
- Ingesting; or
- Coming into contact.
What is Water Contamination?
Water contamination typically accounts for around 7 million cases a year and around 1,000 fatalities. There is a broad range of contaminants that exist in water, ranging from man-made, synthetic compounds to bacteria and viruses which have not been filtered out of the drinking water.
The majority of water contamination illnesses are not reported because the symptoms are hard to distinguish from those of food poisoning. Symptoms may vary in severity depending upon the contaminant that is in the water.
Individuals who have weakened immune symptoms, such as young children, elderly individuals, and individuals with medical problems may face more severe symptoms. The symptoms can also vary depending upon how long the individual has been drinking the water.
If the local water supply has been contaminated, there are additional symptoms, for example, cancer or birth defects, which may occur. Common symptoms of water contamination may include:
- Stomach problems, such as cramps;
- Vomiting; and
- Birth defects.
What are Chemical Spills?
A chemical spill occurs when a hazardous material, typically a liquid, leaks into an area where it is not intended to be located. This may occur on a small scale, for example, when an individual spills chemicals such as insecticide containing arsenic, in their home or at work.
Chemical spills may also occur on a large scale, for example, when an oil company spills oil into the ocean. A chemical spill may lead to property damage or injuries resulting from the chemical exposure.
These spills may also compromise environmental settings and wildlife. Some common ways that chemical spills occur include:
- Containers leaking uncontrollably;
- Bursting pipes;
- Dropping a container or a jar containing hazardous materials;
- Fires or explosions causing chemicals to spill;
- Ruptured hoses; and
- Failure to place a lid or secure a seal on a container.
What are Some Problems Associated with Chemical Spills?
A chemical spill may result in numerous issues, which may include:
- Environmental hazards;
- Damage to wildlife;
- Property damages;
- Chemical burn injuries;
- Contamination of drinking water sources, as water pollution can be a private nuisance issue; and
- Dangers which are associated with contaminated breathing spaces or polluted air, for example, when a chemical is emitting harmful vapors.
What are Some Legal Consequences of Chemical Spill Incidents?
A chemical spill incident may, in some cases, lead to a legal action and lawsuit. This applies especially in cases where an individual, usually an employee, was negligent in the handling of certain materials.
In these cases, the employee or the company they work for may be held liable for injuries or property damage that was caused by the chemical spill. In some cases, the responsible party does not have to act negligently or recklessly to be held liable for damages which are caused by dangerous chemicals.
A strict liability statute may hold a party liable for damages that are caused by abnormally hazardous activities, even if precautions were taken to prevent an incident. This applies especially in cases of disposal of radioactive chemicals or other highly hazardous substances.
If numerous individuals were injured by the same incident, a chemical spill may be filed as a class action lawsuit.
Are There Federal Laws to Clean Up Contaminated Land?
Yes, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA), also referred to as Superfund, requires the following individuals or businesses to pay for the cleanup of hazardous substances:
- The current owner or occupant of the land, regardless if they were the ones who contaminated the land;
- Owner or occupants of the land at the time the chemicals were improperly disposed of;
- Anyone who arranged for the improper disposal or caused the spill of chemicals; or
- Anyone who brought the chemicals to the land to be disposed of.
It is possible that numerous parties of businesses may be responsible for the cleanup, especially if they fall under the requirements listed above.
How are Cleanup Costs Determined?
In order to determine the clean up costs, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will examine the site and estimate what the cost of cleanup will be. Because these issues must typically be handled quickly, the EPA will often clean the land and then sue the landowner for the costs related to the cleanup.
Calculating cleanup expenses may depend upon numerous factors, including:
- The size and extent of the property affected;
- Whether any of the property was unique or irreplaceable; and
- Other considerations.
What if My Neighbor Polluted My Land?
If an individual’s neighbor polluted their land, they may go ahead and clean up the land and then, pursuant to CERCLA, sue the owner of the polluting land to recover their cleanup costs. It is important, however, to consult with an attorney prior to cleaning up the land.
If possible, it may be helpful for an individual to begin compiling documents or other evidence which may be useful for their claim, which may include:
- Photos or videos of the damaged property;
- Property boundary markings; and
- Other forms of evidence.
Are There Any Defenses to Avoid Paying Cleanup Costs?
The general public will typically want polluted land and contaminated water cleaned immediately. In limited circumstances, however, CERCLA will keep an innocent landowner or innocent buyer from being required to pay cleanup costs.
In order to use this defense, the innocent party is required to meet certain criteria, including having:
- Acquired the land after the improper disposal occurred;
- Conducted a thorough pre-purchase investigation into the previous use of the land and found no problems; and
- Had no reason to know about any contamination.
What are Some Hazardous Waste Accident Statistics?
Hazardous waste may be incredibly dangerous both to the environment and to public health. Unfortunately, these substances are a part of the everyday world because they are byproducts of many important businesses, including:
- Automobile repair shops; and
- Oil refineries.
In order to keep individuals as well as the environment safe, the industries which generate hazardous waste are required to follow strict regulations while handling and disposing of waste. When hazardous waste substances are released into the environment, it may have a devastating effect on the local community.
Statistics related to hazardous waste accidents in the United States and their effects include:
- Hazardous waste accidents caused almost 16 million dollars in property damage and forced 22,757 people to evacuate in 2012;
- Only 6% of the hazardous waste accidents which occurred in 2012 were the result of natural causes. In other words, some individual or entity was legally liable for 94% of hazardous waste accidents that year;
- There were 28,591 hazardous waste accidents in 2012;
- 1,133 people died as a result of hazardous waste accidents in 2012;
- 41% of the hazardous waste accidents which occurred occurred from a mobile vehicle, while
- 31% of accidents happened at a fixed site in 2012;
- In 2011, over 34.5 trillion tons of hazardous waste was generated;
- Hazardous waste spills from accidents on highways and railroads in 2012 caused more than $73 million in damages;
- The states that generate the most hazardous waste include:
- Ohio; and
- Florida is the location of the highest number of hazardous waste violations since 2000;
- In 2012, 1,360 individuals were hospitalized and 1,899 individuals were injured as a result of hazardous waste accidents; and
- The number of hazardous materials incidents decreased 3.9% between 2014 and 2015, decreasing from 17,400 to 16,711.
Should I Contact a Lawyer for a Hazardous Waste Accident?
A hazardous waste accident may lead to a life-long illness or even be fatal. These accidents may also cause extensive damage to the property.
If you or a loved one has been physically injured or otherwise harmed by a hazardous waste accident, you should contact a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. Your lawyer can assist you with assembling your case against the entities that caused the hazardous waste accident as well as to obtain compensation for the harm which the accident caused.