Residential FAQs

For your convenience, our most common customer questions are answered right here.

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  1. 1
    Q: How do I find out more about what's on my property?

    A:  There are several things you can do:

    • Investigate past uses of the property using the Records Search Checklist as a guide.  This will provide valuable information about what substances might be present.
    • Conduct a thorough physical inspection of the property (both indoors and out), using the Site Inspection Checklist as a starting point.
    • Check to see what information is available from Ecology — check our site lists and searchable databases; you may also contact a public records officer to review files or obtain copies of relevant documents or reports.
    • If the preceding items are too daunting, you might consider hiring an environmental professional for assistance.
  2. 2
    Q: If I find contamination on my property, how do I find out what types of chemicals are there?

    A:  One approach would be:

    • First, research past uses of the property (using the Records Search Checklist) to find out what manner of small or home-based businesses have operated there.
    • Knowing the past history may provide clues to chemical contaminants that may be present.  Some information resources that link business types to likely wastes generated include:

    Hazardous Waste:  More common than you think

    Businesses That Generate Hazardous Waste

    Contaminated Media, Human Health, and
    Selected Chemicals — Common Uses and Sources

    • Later, collect samples and have them analyzed by a lab.  You might collect the samples yourself or you might ask for help from the Washington state Department of Health or your local health department.
  3. 3
    Q: How do I find out if the contamination might harm people or pets?

    A:  If you are a homeowner, you probably have concerns about the effects on your family and friends.  If you own or manage a small business, you are probably concerned about your employees’ and customers’ well-being.  Please check the web pages below for information about specific chemicals and their effects:

    • Toxic Free Tips
    • Contaminants Found at Hazardous Waste Sites — FAQs
    • Arsenic in the Environment
    • Asbestos FAQs
    • Asbestos Information Page
    • Protect Your Family from Asbestos-Contaminated Vermiculite Insulation
    • Don’t Mess With Mercury
    • Mercury Information Page
    • PBDEs FAQ (Flame Retardant Chemicals,)
    • Prevent Lead Poisoning
  4. 4
    Q: What precautions can I take to reduce the exposure for my family?

    A:  If you suspect that your drinking water is contaminated (i.e., you notice an unusual taste, odor, or change in quality or color), you might purchase bottled water or look for an alternate source of water.  You might also check with your local health department or the state Department of Health to see if there are any health advisories in effect in your area.

  5. 5
    Q: What are some common situations or scenarios that occur repeatedly?

    A:  Some common situations that we see frequently include:  spills of hazardous substances, illegal drug Labs, Leaking Underground Storage Tanks (LUSTs), home heating oil tanks, and area-wide contamination problems.

  6. 6
    Q: If I find contamination on my property, am I required to disclose this information when I sell my house?

    A:  Yes, real estate law requires disclosure of known contamination.

    (It may be advisable to consult with a real estate attorney if your are buying / selling property that may have a history of contamination.)

  7. 7
    Q: How do I report the discovery of hazardous waste?

    A:  It depends on the type of situation you are dealing with.  For example:

    Emergencies:  If you encounter a situation that you believe is an emergency (such as an uncontrolled spill of a hazardous substance or drug lab), please go to the “How to Report a Spill” page immediately and follow the instructions there.  This page includes telephone numbers and a list of questions you may be asked.

    Tanks:  Releases of hazardous substances from Leaking Underground Storage Tanks must be reported to Ecology within 24 hours of discovery.

    For instructions about how to report leaking tank incidents, please visit the “How to Report Environmental Problems” page.

    Please note that home heating oil tanks are not regulated by Ecology.  Please contact the Pollution Liability Insurance Agency (PLIA) for more information about the latter.

    All Other Incidents:  Please see:  How to Report Environmental Incidents for instructions.  Please note that all other incidents of contamination or suspected contamination must be reported to Ecology within 90 days of discovery.

  8. 8
    Q: What information do I need to know before reporting the problem / incident?

    A:  For emergency situations (spills of hazardous substances, drug labs), you can expect to be asked:

    • Where is the spill / incident (complete address, directions)?
    • What spilled? How much?  How concentrated is the spilled material?
    • Who spilled the material?
    • Is anyone cleaning it up?
    • Are there resource damages (such as dead fish or oily birds)?
    • Who is reporting the spill and how can they be contacted?

    When reporting all other problems / incidents, you’ll need to provide:

    • Contact information about the person reporting the problem;
    • A Description of the problem / incident and complete location information (address, directions)
    • Information about who may be responsible for the problem / incident
  9. 9
    Q: What happens after I've reported the problem to Ecology?

    A:  Again, it depends on the type of situation you are dealing with:

    Emergencies (Spills, Drug Labs):  The Ecology Spill Response program and/or the Department of Health Drug Lab Cleanup Program and/or your local jurisdiction will evaluate and respond to emergency situations as quickly as possible.

    Voluntary Cleanups (fee-based program):  Reports received under the fee-based Voluntary Cleanup Program go into a queue in each regional office where they are reviewed on a first-come, first-served basis.  The review process takes about six months to complete.  A satisfactory report will receive a “No Further Action” determination.  You will be contacted regarding further requirements for incomplete or unsatisfactory reports.

    Tanks (Leaking Underground Storage Tanks or LUSTs):  Reports of leaking tanks are referred to the Initial Investigations team for evaluation.  You may be contacted for additional information.  The investigator may visit the site to do an inspection or to collect samples.  If petroleum products or other hazardous substances are present at actionable levels, action must be taken in a timely manner to remove them.

    All Other Incidents:  You may be contacted for follow-up information.  Ecology will conduct an Initial Investigation within 90 days.  The investigation may include a site visit and/or collection of environmental samples.  Possible outcomes following the Initial Investigation include an Emergency Action, Interim Action, Site Hazard Assessment and Ranking, or a “No Further Action” decision.

  10. 10
    Q: What are the consequences of not reporting the problem?

    A:  The longer the problem goes unreported and unresolved, the greater the likelihood of worse problems developing.  A few examples of things that might happen as a result of not reporting a problem include:

    • The problem may get worse and cost significantly more to clean up later;
    • If the contamination moves off-site, you could be sued by the owner(s) of neighboring properties;
    • Banks may not be willing to give loans to improve the property or to a prospective buyer;
    • You may not be able to sell the property;
    • Fines might be levied (depending on the situation and which laws apply);
    • Ecology may take enforcement action against the responsible person(s);
    • Ecology may step in and do a cleanup, then try to recover costs from the responsible persons later; etc.
  11. 11
    Q: Who is responsible for cleaning up my property?

    A:  Under the Model Toxics Control Act , those who caused the contamination are held responsible for cleaning it up.  Any past or present relationship with a contaminated site could result in liability for cleanup.  A “potentially liable person” can be:

    • A current or past facility [property] owner or operator.
    • Anyone who arranged for disposal or treatment of hazardous substances at the site.
    • Anyone who transported hazardous substances for disposal or treatment at a contaminated site, unless the facility could legally receive the hazardous materials at the time of transport.
    • Anyone who sells a hazardous substance with written instructions for its use, and abiding by the instructions results in contamination.

    Frequently, property owners are motivated to do a cleanup (via the Voluntary Cleanup Program) because of:

    • A situation that poses immediate and serious health risks;
    • A desire to prevent impacts to adjacent property;
    • The planned purchase or sale of the property; or
    • Plans to do a major remodel, building addition, or significant re-landscaping.

    Property owners may attempt to recover costs incurred while conducting a MTCA-equivalent cleanup from other Liable Parties. You are advised to consult a qualified environmental attorney if you wish to pursue this option.

  12. 12
    Q: What constitutes a hazardous waste? How do I find out if the waste discovered is toxic / hazardous?

    A:  One definition of a ‘hazardous substance’ is:  any substance that, at a particular concentration or amount, is capable of causing harm to human health, other living organisms, and/or the environment.

    You’ll need to determine whether you are dealing with ‘solid waste’ (garbage, junk, debris) or toxic / hazardous substances.  Solid waste looks messy and may pose safety risks, but most likely wouldn’t require cleanup under the Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA).  Your local governmental agency (city or county) would be the most likely source of assistance for solid waste issues: Directory of County Health Departments / Districts (External Site)

    The presence of toxic / hazardous substances is a much more serious issue.

    For more detailed information, see also:  Site Discovery & Reporting, Policy 300

  13. 13
    Q: What cleanup options are available to me?
    • What can I do myself?
    • What can I do with Ecology’s assistance?
    • What can a cleanup contractor help me with?

    A:  The type of cleanup work done varies considerably according to the situation.  Cleanups run the gamut from simple, routine cleanups to very large, complex cleanups.  For residential properties and small businesses, the most often-used cleanup approach is to hire an environmental consulting firm to help you complete a Voluntary Cleanup.

    Some things you can do yourself are described in the Small Spill Cleanup Guide

    Some common cleanup methods that a cleanup contractor might use are described in:

    • Citizen’s Guides to Cleanup Methods
      External web site:  US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA);
      Includes links to 21 fact sheets (.pdf documents) that briefly describe various cleanup methods; both English and Spanish language versions are available; topics range from ‘Activated Carbon Treatment’ to ‘Vertical Engineered Barriers’.

    If you are considering hiring a contractor, please see:

    • Selecting an Environmental Consulting Firm (.pdf)
    • Hiring A Contractor
  14. 14
    Q: What costs or fees are associated with cleaning up the toxic waste?

    A:  There can be significant costs involved in cleaning up contamination and costs vary considerably from one situation to the next.  Some examples of costs you might incur include:

    • Voluntary Cleanup Program fees;
    • Cleanup contractor professional services costs;
    • Laboratory services costs if you have environmental samples analyzed;
    • Attorney costs and legal expenses if you seek legal assistance;
    • Permit fees if any permits are required to do the cleanup work.
  15. 15
    Q: If I want to clean up my property, where can I safely dispose of contaminated materials (such as soil, wastes, etc.)?

    A:  If you are working with an environmental consultant or contractor, they should be knowledgeable about how to properly dispose of hazardous materials.  Otherwise, please check:

    • Your local Health Department / Health District may also be able to direct you to local resources.
    • You might also check the yellow pages of your local phone book under “Waste Disposal – Hazardous” or similar listings.
  16. 16
    Q: What else do I need to do after the cleanup work has been completed?

    A:  There are a few final details that need to be taken care of at the end of the cleanup process:

    • If everything has gone well with your cleanup, your property should qualify for a “No Further Actiondecision — a determination made by Ecology (most often following a successful review of a Voluntary Cleanup report);
    • If your property was listed on the Hazardous Sites List, it’s time to petition to get it removed or “de-listed”;
    • In many cases, there may be additional requirements for longer-term follow-up, such aslong-term monitoring, periodic reviews, and/or institutional controls.

Disclaimer: This ‘Guide’ is provided as a service to the public. The information provided herein is intended to be helpful, but it is not exhaustive and the user may need to obtain information from additional sources.  Although the ‘Guide’ has undergone review to ensure the quality of the information provided, there is no assurance that it is free from errors.  This ‘Guide’ cannot be relied upon to create rights, substantive or procedural, enforceable by any party in litigation with the State of Kentucky