South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Contributors to Contamination Must Contribute to Clean Up Even if Voluntary
Description Appeals court held that when clean up of a contaminated site occurs, contributors to the contamination have an obligation to contribute to the cost of remediation even if the EPA has not addressed the requirements for a particular site. The law encourages voluntary efforts.
Topic Environmental Law
Key Words CERCLA, Voluntary Clean Up, Cost Recovery
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts The water district of Chicago owns a piece of property contaminated decades ago by chemical tanks. The district began a voluntary clean up effort, sued the company that had used the tanks in its operation, and received a $1.8 million judgment plus an order of future contributions should more clean up costs be incurred to meet CERCLA standards. The company was in default on the judgment, so the district sued the parent company. The district court held that it could be ordered to contribute to the cost of the clean up. The parent company appealed, contending that EPA had not ordered the clean up and that no clean up agreement had been reached with EPA to set a standard for the effort and, thereby, determine costs.

Affirmed. The district has an implied right of contribution under the cost recovery provision of CERCLA. Even though the district had not been ordered by the government to engage in the clean up, and had not settled potential liability in an agreement with EPA, the policy of CERCLA is to encourage cleaning of contaminated sites. The district need not wait until EPA acts on the matter to take steps to remediate the problem.

Citation Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago v. North American Galvanizing & Coatings, Inc., 473 F.3d 824 (7th Cir., 2007)

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