CERCLA Turns 35 Years Old

Although CERCLA is mostly associated with abandoned industrial sites, it all protects innocent land owners from taking on environmental liabilities during any commercial real estate transaction.

On December 11th, 1980 the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) was born, making the environmentally protective act 35 today!

CERCLA was enacted to ensure that releases of hazardous substances are responded to when public health and the environment are in danger. Liability is another key component of CERCLA. The act ensures that those liable for the spill are held responsible, but also ensures that cleanup occurs when no responsible party can be identified.

One of the most common clauses of the act is the innocent land owner clause which comes into play every time a commercial real estate transaction occurs. In 2002, CERCLA was amended to exempt some landowners who knowingly or unknowingly acquired a contaminated property from liability of associated environmental cleanup cost. The amendment states that those landowners who satisfied the CERCLA All Appropriate Inquiries Rule (AAI) before acquiring the contaminated property would not be held liable for the contamination and cleanup.

One major component of satisfying CERCLA’s AAI Rule is the completion of an AAI compliant Phase I Environmental Site Assessment during the due diligence phase of a commercial or industrial real estate deal. Landowners without an AAI compliant Phase I ESA can be held liable for environmental contamination whether they contributed to the contamination or not per CERCLA regulations.

Element’s staff has over twenty-five years of combined experience conducting Phase I ESAs. Our goal is to provide our clients with essential environmental information on a property before they close the deal. We communicate openly with our clients as the process unfolds, ensuring there are no surprises at closing. We have experience with small scale commercial properties as well as large complex industrial and manufacturing sites. We provide sound business advice concerning the environmental liability of a property to our clients so they can make an informed decision before purchasing a property.

Happy 35th Anniversary to CERCLA! Thanks to this Act contamination at over 1,000 sites across the United States has been controlled using EPA action. Meaning potential or actual exposure risk to humans is controlled by implementing engineering or institutional controls.

Additional information regarding CERCLA can be found on the EPA’s Superfund website.

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