By Ursula Knowles, Assistant Vice President, Information Development
With April showers increasing stormwater runoff and Mays’ blooming flowers (along with mold), what does June have in store for us? Summer can bring more than air inversions which can cause a haze that makes it hard to breathe in many major metropolitan areas. This time of year is rife with conditions and activities that have the potential for pollution events.
One of the goals of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is to protect our nation’s waters. On a national level, the Clean Water Act (CWA) is the primary regulation developed to reach that goal, with various local guidelines enacted on a state level. The Beaches and Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act (BEACH Act) was signed into law in October of 2000. It amends the CWA and requires that the EPA develop programs for monitoring and assessing beach water quality and addressing any problems.
In the summer months, there are more opportunities for beaches to be impacted from sources such as:
* Combined sewer overflows: these are sewers designed to collect rainwater runoff, domestic sewage, industrial wastewater, and runoff from construction sites. The wastewater from these sources is typically directed to a sewage treatment plant, however, when there is heavy rainfall, the wastewater volume may be heavier than the capacity of the sewer, resulting in direct discharge to nearby streams, rivers, or other waterbodies that feed into beach areas. Some of the contaminants that may be present in this combined sewer overflow include e. coli (indicator of fecal contamination), metals such as coper, iron or lead, phosphorus which promotes algae growth and odors, and industrial chemicals such as solvents, oil and grease, as well as insecticides/pesticides.
* Stormwater: particularly in areas of paved roads, parking lots, and building roofs, stormwater cannot infiltrate into the soil and as it flows towards the nearest surface water body, it picks up various contaminants including oil, gasoline, antifreeze, fertilizers, and insecticides/pesticides.
* Sanitary sewer overflows: collect sewage to be transported to publicly owned treatment works. Occasionally, often in times of heavy rain or due to blockages, line breaks or sewer line defects, unintentional discharges of raw sewage can occur which may eventually find their way into water bodies along beaches.
* Debris deposited into coastal waters: primarily from inadequate waste handling by waste transporting vessels. The EPA and the Coast Guard together are responsible for developing regulations under the Shore Protection Act (SPA) to minimize this debris from depositing into coastal waters and ultimately impacting shores.
According to the EPA, sewage discharges from commercial and recreational boats pose a hazard to human health and ecosystems; so much so, that the CWA was amended by the addition of the Clean Boating Act. This requires the EPA to develop management practices to help limit pollution discharged from recreational vehicles into the nation’s waterways. Commercial boats are regulated also and required to have permits for incidental discharges such as ballast water, bilge water, gray water from sinks or showers, and anti-foulant paint.
Summer Travel – Hotels and Motels
Vacationers are often eager to get to their temporary lodging quarters to enjoy the beautiful, pristine, serene surroundings and indulge in the pools, hot tubs, saunas, and common areas. Unfortunately, there have been many instances of pollutants lurking among these beautiful surroundings and vacationers have had to pay the consequences. Some examples of potential environmental concerns at temporary lodging quarters include:
* Guest rooms that have airborne viral, bacterial agents or mold. They are often cleaned with solvents or cleaning fluids that, if used property, might be innocuous, however, they may be a hazard if they are mixed with incompatible chemicals or released into the environment. There have been numerous instances of lawsuits filed on behalf of guests that were exposed to mold or legionella during their stays in hotels, motels, or other temporary lodging facilities.
* There have been instances of lead in pipes from which guests obtain their potable drinking water.
* On-site laundry operations may use hazardous chemicals such as perchloroethylene (PERC) which is a known carcinogen. Oftentimes, these establishments tout that they use “closed loop” systems, however, fumes may still be released via damaged hoses or gaskets as well as loose coupling or valves.
* Pesticides or fertilizers may be released from gardens which eventually find their way to neighboring properties or local waterbodies.
* Golf courses: pesticides or fertilizers may be released into the environment from golf courses which eventually find their way to neighboring properties and/or local waterbodies. In addition, many golf courses in the United States have been built on old landfills that are still releasing methane gas.
* Synthetic turf fields: according to the Synthetic Turf Council, there are approximately 4,500 synthetic turf fields, including running tracks and playgrounds, in the United States. They are made from recycled tires (i.e. tire crumbs) and concerns have recently started to surface about a link between some cancers and the prolonged use of these fields. According to an EPA website, the compounds in turf fields varies on a case by case basis, however, some contaminants that have been found in tires include acetone, benzene, chromium, lead, mercury, styrene, and toluene, among others.
* Pools/hot tubs: chlorine or other maintenance chemicals seem to be innocuous, but if released in large quantities or mixed with incompatible chemicals could be a hazard. In addition, pools and hot tubs are notorious for being sources of microbes including bacteria and legionella, etc. The microbes are often released into the mist from these water sources and become airborne and inhaled by unsuspecting guests or employees. Recently, in one town, three of the town pools were found to be contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The pools were over 50 years old and were scheduled to be upgraded, however, when they were being examined to determine the plans for upgrading, it was discovered that they had been painted with paint that contained PCBs. Town administrators decided to look for alternative swimming options for its residents. In another instance, an upscale hotel with a pool was found to be the source of a noxious gas cloud in the downtown Los Angeles subway, causing at least two people to become ill. It was discovered that hotel employees had poured 55-gallon drums of muriatic acid and chlorine into drains that lead to the gas migrating to the subway system.
Landscaping chemicals such as fertilizers and pesticides contribute to pollution of the environment in the summer months. When these chemicals run off of the sites where they have been applied, they may contribute to the proliferation of nitrogen and phosphorus in aquatic ecosystems. Sunlight, slow moving water and nitrogen, and phosphorus can result in an overgrowth of harmful algae which is called “algae bloom”. The consequences of algae bloom can include the production of dangerous toxins that can sicken or kill people, fish, and animals, create dead zones in the water, require additional treatment for drinking water, and hurt industrial facilities that depend on clean water
Solutions to Summer Pollution
Environmental insurance products can be designed to protect companies against inadvertent releases of contaminated water, contaminated water overflows, chemicals, mold, and legionella and the ensuing bodily injury, property damage, and remediation claims. In some cases, these policies will respond to the subsequent fines and penalties that regulatory agencies may assess against them (as long as they are not intentionally noncompliant with environmental laws, the fines/penalties are not criminal fines/penalties, and coverage for fines and penalties is allowable by law).
Contractors Pollution Liability (CPL) coverage is designed to protect contractors against third party cleanup, bodily injury, and property damage claims for pollution events caused as a result of their contracting operations. Very often, the line between contracting services and professional services becomes very blurred; in order to ensure that both contracting operations and professional services are addressed in an insured’s coverage, environmental insurers have developed combined CPL and professional liability policies. These can help to avoid coverage disputes related to contractor vs. professional services.
Premises Pollution Liability (EIL) coverage is designed to protect entities against first and third party cleanup, bodily injury, and property damage claims for pollution events caused as a result of activities at their owned or leased premises. Coverage can be designed to protect municipal, industrial, and commercial entities, including those that discharge wastewater or stormwater directly from a point source which results in an inadvertent pollution release, as well as mold, legionella, or other indoor air quality contaminants.
Read more information on environmental insurance programs and how they can help your company manage their potential environmental exposures.
Information for this article was obtained from the following sources:
While the coverages we offer are designed to address these general issues, we make no guarantee or warranty that any individual policy we offer will respond to all issues as described herein. Please refer to the actual policy wording in each offered form to determine coverage applicability and acceptability. In the event you or your client applies for coverage and we offer terms. Please review those terms carefully to determine if all of your or your client’s exposures are being addressed. In some instances, more than one policy or type of coverage may be necessary.