Buying real estate can quickly become a complicated process. Part of that process often involves obtaining an environmental survey to determine whether any contamination exists. If it turns out that groundwater contamination exists, you need to decide whether to proceed with the purchase. On the other hand, if you fail to discover the contamination prior to the sale, you could file a claim against the seller and any other responsible parties.
Making these decisions requires understanding the big picture, including what you face going forward if your purchase the property knowing about its issues, since you might assume all liability for the contamination and subsequent cleanup. Even if you did not know about the contamination until the government came knocking on your door, the federal government and the state of New Jersey could still look to you for the cleanup.
What are the odds that the groundwater contains contamination?
The odds remain higher than anyone would like. Approximately 50 percent of the country's population relies on groundwater, so governmental agencies do what they can to prevent contamination and make sure that cleanup occurs when inspections or surveys discover groundwater pollution. All kinds of pollutants find their way into the groundwater when they leach into the soil and then the water table.
Many pollutants come from the following sources:
- Atmospheric contaminants: Chemicals released into the air mix with the atmosphere. Eventually, those chemicals could end up in the groundwater.
- Landfills: If the protective barrier required at a landfill either breaks or fails to exist, the toxins from the landfill could get into the water we drink.
- Septic systems: When property constructed and maintained, these systems do their job effectively and efficiently. However, when that fails to happen, the waste could end up in the water table.
- Storage tanks: Individuals and companies use these tanks to store a variety of potential environmental disasters such as gas, chemicals or oils, along with other chemicals both above and below ground. Any weaknesses in the tanks could result in groundwater contamination.
- Uncontrolled hazardous waste: Governmental agencies regulate the disposal of hazardous waste. Companies who fail to adhere to those regulations or otherwise somehow run afoul of the law risk contaminating the groundwater and the land as well.
- Chemicals and road salts: The salts used to make driving safe in the winter, the weed killer you might use on your lawn, and other chemicals we use every day could eventually build up enough in the ground to contaminate the water.
When you face groundwater contamination on the property you purchased, or will purchase, it would be beneficial to talk to an environmental law attorney. Whether you need assistance dealing with the government, an insurance company or a former owner, you should take the time to understand your rights and legal options regardless of the situation.