Let the Buyer Beware

by Paul Tarricone, Assistant Editor; Civil Engineering Magazine, ASCE World Headquarters, 345 East 47th Street, New York City, NY.,

Serial Information: Civil Engineering—ASCE, 1990, Vol. 60, Issue 8, Pg. 56-59

Document Type: Feature article


As recently as the 1970s, state highway agencies blindly purchased land for projects without much concern for hazardous waste. But that changed in 1980 with Superfund legislation, specifically the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), which states that both the current and previous owner may be liable for cleanup, regardless of who is responsible for the contamination. In short, if you own it, you clean it. Unsuspecting DOTs have encountered the whole gamut of contaminants along highway routes, including leaking underground storage tanks, landfills, dumps sites and sludge pits and ground water. The discovery of hazardous wastes can have a domino effect on the entire highway project. Schedules may have to be juggled; construction may be delayed or stopped in progress; and highway agencies may find themselves wallowing in a quagmire of litigation. But states are now screening properties more closely, helped in part by a new FHWA course. Before purchase, a state should identify contaminated land parcels, and completely avoid them. If that's impossible, it should redesign the project to minimize involvement with the contamination, while securing the cleanup costs from the previous owner.

Subject Headings: Highways and roads | Soil pollution | Traffic safety | Hazardous wastes | Owners | Underground storage | Storage tanks | Infrastructure construction

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