ENVIRONMENTAL LAWS AND SMALL BUSINESS
Independent Business Association
small businesses unknowingly violate environmental laws or fail to protect
themselves from environmental liability. Unknowing violations or failing to
protect themselves from environmental liability can be extremely costly -
$l,000s to $l00,000s .
NOTICE: The following information is intended to alert the reader to common
actions by small business owners that can result in these kinds of problems. It
is not a comprehensive review of all environmental laws and is not intended to
assure compliance with any environmental laws.†
Nor does it identify all potential violations by small business owners
as environmental laws are highly complex and extremely broad in scope. If the
reader has any questions regarding any action dealing with environmental
issues, they are advised to consult with an attorney experienced in the type of
environmental law ill question.
four most common environmental problems small business owners face are:
- Failing to manage hazardous waste violations
- Allowing waste material to contaminate storm water or to flow into a storm drain or sanitary sewer
- Releasing emissions into the air from spray painting, burning, other chemical releases, or releasing refrigerant gas into the air.
property without first doing a comprehensive environmental assessment.
We will discuss each of these below.
Here are the major
types of environmental protections:
- Soil -
contaminating soil with hazardous materials
materials and hazardous waste - mishandling hazardous materials makes it
hazardous waste and mis-disposing of hazardous is a violation
- Water Quality - contaminating
stormwater, surface water or ground water with hazardous materials
(including just dirt) is a violation of environmental laws. Disposing of
hazardous materials into a sanitary sewer without prior permission is also
a violation of environmental laws.
- if you business does spray painting, uses large quantities of solvents
or other materials that evaporate quickly, or produces noticeable amounts
of smoke -you may be in violation of air quality
Hazardous Materials and Hazardous Waste
What are hazardous materials or hazardous waste.
Any container with a Warning label about the contents usually contains
hazardous materials. Many very common materials are hazardous like lead, paint,
pesticides, solvents, oils, gasoline, other fuels, etc.
Businesses are required to store hazardous
materials correctly to avoid their being released on to the soil, into the
water or into the air. Proper storage is important. Fire, and safety and health
regulations also set storage requirements in many cases. For many hazardous
materials, you are required to store the materials in a fire resistant cabinet.
Hazardous liquids usually must be stored within secondary containment so if the
first container leaks, the secondary container.† Businesses must be aware of their total
responsibility for the disposal of hazardous materials and waste. IF the
hazardous materials/waste you dispose if somehow end up contaminating the
environment -EVER -you can be held liable for the entire clean-up of the
contamination. Often, small businesses dispose of small amounts hazardous
materials/waste in the regular garbage. There are cases where businesses that
have done that have been assessed for the clean up of contamination from a public
landfill. T o minimize that potential liability, a business should use a
hazardous waste disposer, The cost is higher but if you use the right disposer
who certifies the waste was ultimately destroyed, your liability can be
minimized. There are programs in larger cities where you can take the waste to
a the disposer and reduce the costly pick-up and transportation costs.
key to minimizing your liability for hazardous materials/waste is to use up all
of the materials so you have nothing to dispose of, and minimize to the
greatest extent possible the amount of hazardous waste you generate. Never mix
two hazardous wastes, the cost of disposal increases many times as compared to
not mixing the same wastes. Always look for opportunities to recycle
a waste or find someone who wants to use the waste to make some other product.
This changes it from hazardous waste to a raw material but you must be very
sure that the firm that takes your "material" and handles it properly
or you can get stuck with the total costs of cleaning up any mis-use of the
are specific regulations on the disposal of hazardous materials/waste. lBA has
prepared a special report on disposal of hazardous materials/waste. Request IBA
Depending on the waste, the regulations require a
business to dispose of more than 2.2 pounds per month is extremely hazardous
waste or more than and up to 220 of standard hazardous waste per month without
having to get a hazardous waste management permit, provided you manage the
waste properly.† Remember, no
matter how little the amount of waste you dispose of, if you dispose of it
wrong, you can be held totally liable for all clean up costs because of your
have four major potential ways to contaminate water. One is stormwater. Second
is the sanitary sewer. Third is pouring contamination into storm drains. Fourth is contaminating a septic system or drywell.
We will briefly review each below.
can be easily contaminated in many ways. Oil runoff from a parking lot contaminates stormwater. So does soil erosion. The big challenge with
stormwater is that it generally is discharged, untreated to a local stream,
river, lake or saltwater body. So contamination of stormwater must be avoided.
NEVER pour anything into a stormwater drain -even if it is not raining. lBA
once helped a member who built metal storage tanks who filled the finished tank
with tap water to test for leaks. After the tank was tested, the water was
released into a storm drain. But tap water has been chlorinated to make it safe
to drink, But the tap water was considered contaminated and the business was
cited for it. If you contaminate stormwater and therefore contaminate a larger
water body, you firm can be held responsible for clean-up of the contaminated water
body and restoration of aquatic life in it.
are also prohibited from discharging hazardous materials/waste in a sanitary
sewer unless you have the permission of the sewer utility .Sewer utilities are
extremely good at tracking the source of contamination up stream to its source.
Violators can face large fines and huge disposal costs of water they have
dump any chemicals into a storm drain.†
That drain almost always leads directly to a surface water body and
whatever you dump in the storm drain will contaminate that surface water and
YOU will get stuck with a fine and the clean up costs. Regulators are very good a finding the
source of contaimination.
do not dispose of anything other than clean water into a septic system or
drywell as you may contaminate the ground water in the ground. The costs of cleaning up groundwater
contamination are huge.
too many small business owners who buy a business facility, also buy a huge
liability - a contaminated site they are totally responsible to clean up. NEVER
buy any property without first having a top quality firm do an environmental
assessment of the property. An
environmental assessment will review past uses of the land, search for any
records indicating there was an underground tank somewhere on the site, do a
visual inspection and do a number soil samples looking for possible
you buy contaminated property, you are legally and totally responsible for the
clean-up of the contamination. Yes, you can try and force others to pay for the
clean up. If you are successful, good, but it will cost you a lot money to be
successful in most cases. If you can't make others pay, you get stuck with the
entire bill, which can easily cost $l0,000s
>Never dispose of any hazardous material, solid or
liquid, by spreading it on the ground. Now, even farmers are being faced with
the potential that the pesticide residue on the land makes the land contaminated
and they must pay to have it cleaned up.
up contaminated soils can be extremely costly. You are totally liable for the
cost of any clean up of contaminated soil you create or you own.
your business does spray painting, has open solvent cleaners, metal finishing,
produces smoke, does work on refrigeration equipment, or does any work dealing with asbestos you probably must comply
with air pollution laws. We all deal with air pollution via the vehicles we
to comply with air pollution laws can result in costly fines. In most cases,
you must register your firm with the proper authority and may have to install
certain equipment to reduce or eliminate releases into the air.
IBA members can
request additional information by calling lBA at 425-453-8621.