Travails of CERCLA: How a $600 Purchase Turned into a $70,000 Cost

This true story reads more like a parable, since there wasn’t so much on the line.  But understand that the CERCLA remedation required in this case cost just over 11,600% MORE than the cost of the asset.  And that truth is yet again stranger than fiction.

In 2006, a small screen print shop owner advertised a semi-trailer for sale on Craigslist.  So innocuous an ad, was it.  For $900, a buyer could purchase the trailer by itself.   But for the truly bargain conscious, the trailer could be purchased “as is” for $300 less.  “As-is” turned out to be a trailer filled with various containers of screen printing materials (some of which were hazardous materials).  Surely you are not surprised that someone bought the trailer “as-is”.

The purchaser then went to work emptying the contents of the trailer onto what is now known as the Cherokee Print Shop Wastes Superfund Site in Denver, Colorado.   The EPA incurred in excess of $70,000 to remediate the site contamination from the now empty trailer.  That’s one hundred and sixteen times the $600 cost of the trailer and its precious cargo.

The EPA filed an eforcement proceeding against the print shop owner to recover its response costs.  But it ultimately entered into an ability to pay consent order which required the print shop owner to contribute $600 (the amount received for the trailer) to the $70,000 site cleanup.

Environmental laws don’t just apply to land.  They can apply to all sorts of moveable containers.  The biggest moral to this story is simply “Manage Your Business’s Wastes Until Their Ultimate Disposal.”  Trust no one but knowledgeable professionals to do this for you.  Or not, and take the risk of paying exponentially more than you ever thought you would save.