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In-Situ Remediation of Tetrachloroethylene and its Intermediates in Groundwater

Researchers from Tianjin University in China recently released results from a study that showed the results of the use of an anaerobic/aerobic permeable reactive barrier at removing tetrachloroethylene (also known as “perc”) and its intermediates in groundwater.

The anaerobic/aerobic permeable reactive barrier (PRB) system that was tested consisted of four different functional layers and was designed to remediate PCE-contaminated groundwater.  The first (oxygen capture) layer maintained the dissolved oxygen (DO) concentration at <1.35 mg/L in influent supplied to the second (anaerobic) layer.  The third (oxygen-releasing) layer maintained DO concentration at >11.3 mg/L within influent supplied to the fourth (aerobic) layer.  Results show that 99% of PCE was removed, mostly within the second (anaerobic) layer.  The toxic by-products TCE, DCE, and VC were further degraded by 98, 90, and 92%, respectively, in layer 4 (aerobic). The anaerobic/aerobic PRB thus could control both PCE and its degradation by-products.

Photo Credit: US EPA

Tetrachloroethylene is a manufactured chemical that is widely used for dry cleaning of fabrics and for metal-degreasing. It is also used to make other chemicals and is used in some consumer products.

Tetrachloroethylene is present in the subsurface at contaminated sites, often as a result of its inappropriate disposal and release from dry-cleaning and degreasing facilities or landfills.

CERCLA Trumps As-Is Sales

By Steven L. Hoch, Attorney, Clark Hill

A federal court in Alaska assessed responsibility against the City of Fairbanks (City) for remediation costs found necessary to clean up property it previously owned.  The court concluded that the City should have mitigated the problem or at least warned the purchaser about the contamination, even though the property was sold “As-Is”.  Under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) liability is assessed without reference to cause.  Further, the court said that numerous courts have held that CERCLA liability cannot be defeated by contract, unless specifically and clearly addressed in the contract language.

In Gavora, Inc. v. City of Fairbanks , Case No. 4:15–cv-00015-SLG, BL 256894 (D. Alaska July 25, 2017), the City owned two parcels of land and Gavora held leasehold on one of the parcels. For a considerable length of time, a dry cleaning business operated in the shopping center located on their parcel.  Eventually, the contamination drew the attention of the State of Alaska, who told the City about the contamination and that they suspected the contamination migrated from that parcel to the other.  While the State did not verify the findings, the district court found it clear that the City knew or should have known that the first parcel was also contaminated.

Fairbanks Mall – Satellite Image showing borehole and monitoring well locations as well as PCE contamination levels

The City sold the first parcel to Gavora on an “As-Is, Where-Is” basis.  This sale occurred 10 years after the City first learned of the contamination on the second parcel.  When the purchase took place, Gavora did not perform its own environmental assessment.  Five years later, contamination was discovered on the first parcel owned by Gavora.  Lacking options, Gavora remediated the parcel and sued the City of Fairbanks for contribution.

Even though the sale was “As-Is”, the court nevertheless held the seller liable. Further, the court allocated 55% of the costs to the City and 45% of the costs to the current owner. The court rationalized that this allocation was appropriate because (1) the city knew or should have known of the contamination, yet failed to inform the purchaser; (2) the current owner made substantial corrective action efforts upon learning of the problem whereas the City took no action, and (3) it would be inequitable to hold the current owner responsible for contamination occurring prior to its master lease, but the court could not “effectively apportion the contamination”, but (4) the current owner would obtain a greater benefit than the prior owner from the remediation.

In the final analysis this case affirms that “As-Is” does not exculpate a seller from CERCLA liability, and that not disclosing contamination even when it did not make any representation to the contrary. As this was a district court opinion, it does not have significant legal value, but should not be dismissed out of hand when confronting similar issues.

 

This article was first published on the Clark Hill website.

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About the author

Steven Hoch has over 40 years of experience with both federal and state environmental laws and regulations in the context of permitting, regulatory proceedings, litigation, enforcement actions, water supply, public policy formation, and advice.  His work includes contamination of land and ground and surface water.  Steven has critical experience in the areas of environmental law and the federal and state Safe Drinking Water Acts, Title 23, water supply, and the mechanics of water distribution.  His experience also extends to groundwater modeling and water quality testing.  He also has significant experience in hazardous substances and waste handling practices, remediation, soil erosion, and claims of toxic exposures

Steven has in-depth experience working with numerous public water systems throughout the state.  He has also established a sterling reputation for his work with the Regional Water Quality Control Boards, the Department of Toxic Substance Control, and the United States Environmental Protection Agency both in the administrative and litigation.  His clients range from the country’s largest municipal water agency to individuals selling or buying contaminated sites.

Steven often takes primary roles in many environmental trials, and has served as liaison counsel for groups or parties at the request of fellow counsel.  He has been involved in several landmark cases, including acting as PG&E’s counsel in the case made famous by the movie Erin Brockovich.

 

Canadian company fined $100,000 for contravening dry-cleaning regulations

Recently, Dalex Canada Inc., located in Concord, Ontario, pleaded guilty in the Ontario Court of Justice to one count of contravening the Tetrachloroethylene (Use in Dry Cleaning and Reporting Requirements) Regulations made pursuant to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999.  Dalex Canada Inc. was fined $100,000, which will be directed to the Environmental Damages Fund.  The Environmental Damages Fund is administered by Environment and Climate Change Canada. Created in 1995, it provides a way to direct funds received as a result of fines, court orders, and voluntary payments to projects that will benefit our natural environment.

Dalex Headquarters, Concord, Ontario

Environment and Climate Change Canada enforcement officers conducted inspections in 2014 and identified instances where tetrachloroethylene was being sold to owners and operators of dry-cleaning facilities who did not meet regulatory standards.  As a result of Environment and Climate Change Canada’s subsequent investigation, Dalex Canada Inc. pleaded guilty to selling tetrachloroethylene to an owner or operator of a dry-cleaning facility who was not in compliance with the regulations.  The regulations prohibit anyone from selling tetrachloroethylene to dry cleaners unless the dry-cleaning facility is compliant with certain sections of the regulations.

In addition to the fine, the court ordered Dalex Canada Inc. to publish an article in an industry publication, subject to Environment and Climate Change Canada’s approval.  Dalex Canada Inc. is also required to notify Environment and Climate Change Canada before resuming sales of the regulated product to dry cleaners. As a result of this conviction, the company’s name will be added to the federal Environmental Offenders Registry.  The Environmental Offenders Registry contains information on convictions of corporations registered for offences committed under certain federal environmental laws.

Tetrachloroethylene, also known as PERC, enters the environment through the atmosphere, where it can damage plants and find its way into ground water.