SW Legal studies in Business

Superfund Site Clean Up Justified Only if Regulatory Standards Met

Appeals court held that a city could not sue for contribution to past and future clean up costs of its water supply because the level of chemical detected is below the level held to be actionable.

Topic Environmental Law
Key Words

CERCLA; Groundwater Contamination; Contribution

C A S E   S U M M A R Y

The City of Colton, California, draws its water supply from a groundwater basin in San Bernardino County. In 2002, Colton detected the chemical perchlorate in its wells. Although the level detected was below the level the state held to be actionable, Colton began to treat the wells and spent $4 million on that and on further study. The city sued numerous private and public entities under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). All entites had engaged in industrial activities in the basin over the years; Colton alleged they released perchlorate into the groundwater. The city demanded contributions to recover the money spent to date plus future clean up costs estimated to run $55 to $75 million. The district court granted summary judgment for defendants. Colton appealed.


Affirmed. Under CERCLA, response costs are considered necessary, as required for recovery of such costs, when an actual and real threat to human health or the environment exists. The money spent to date by Colton is not recoverable because the level of chemical detected was below the standard believed to be necessary to warrant action. Colton was not in compliance with CERCLA regulations by going beyond what was needed. Colton could sue to try to recover for contributions to future clean up costs, but no remedy is available as there is no record of perchlorate at levels that warrant clean up.

Citation City of Colton v. American Promotional Events, ---F.3d--- (2010 WL 2991399, 9th Cir., 2010)

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