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Environmental contamination on somebody else's property

Environmental contamination on somebody else's property

Environmental contamination on somebody else's property

(OP)
I work for a company that occasionally acquires industrial sites. I have recently been moved into a position that deals more directly with these transactions. I have not had this issue come up specifically yet, but want to be prepared if/when it does, as it seems likely to happen sooner or later.

As part of the acquisition process, our company performs environmental due diligence to see if there are any issues that would end up costing more than the transaction is worth. Environmental investigations (Phase 1 and possibly 2) are performed prior to ownership transfer. My issue would be with sites that were determined to be contaminated to an extent that our company would not take ownership. I am told from a legal perspective that since we would not be the owners, we would have no duty to notify anyone. In many cases, the current owner (by their own request) is not made aware of any discoveries and would have not reason to notify.

I understand that from a legal sense (I talked to the company legal rep.) there is no duty to report, however as a licensed engineer, is there an ethical responsibility to notify someone when I personally am aware of a contaminated site?

RE: Environmental contamination on somebody else's property

"the current owner (by their own request) is not made aware of any discoveries and would have not reason to notify."

This is also a legal (contractual) issue. Being a "whistle-blower" is risky business regardless of ethics.

RE: Environmental contamination on somebody else's property

Whistle blowing aside, there is a statutory duty for engineers to keep paramount the public good (safety). I suspect that most of these contaminated sites will have plumes that reach beyond the present property owner's lines. That endangers the general public at large. If that is the case in any of your investigations, I would guess that your state's professional cannons would mandate that you report the issues to the proper public authorities.
Dave

Thaidavid

RE: Environmental contamination on somebody else's property

I think you should check with your legal department. I don't think you have an option other than to notify the current owner and perhaps the authorities. Even if you don't purchase the property, your firm may become liable.

Dik

RE: Environmental contamination on somebody else's property

I would definitely be concerned that someone in the future might find out that you knew something but didn't report it, thereby creating a potential liability for damages that might occur AFTER you knew.

TTFN (ta ta for now)
I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg
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RE: Environmental contamination on somebody else's property

and that's the reason I would contact my legal department, assuming, he has one. With environmental legislation, in Canada, me may, personally, be subject to felony charges.

Dik

RE: Environmental contamination on somebody else's property

(OP)
Thanks for the replies. I did talk to the lawyers (see reference to the "legal rep." in the OP). They claim that from a legal standpoint there is no obligation (but also made the comment that from an ethical standpoint it was more open to interpretation). Also, I am not the consultant in this case. There is a consultant performing the Phase 1 and 2 studies. They seem comfortable with giving us the results and letting it end there.

I understand the whistle-blower aspect. That would most likely mean a change in my career path if I chose to go down that road. I believe it is easier to explain being dismissed because I did what I thought was right vs explaining why I was accused of violating ethics rules or the law. Personally I don't want to work for the type of company that would prefer the latter to the former.

RE: Environmental contamination on somebody else's property

Other than getting a second legal opinion, I would send the legal guys an email confirming your conversation stating 'the circumstances and that you have been advised/informed, by them, that ...' and be quite specific (I think they're wrong, but, different jurisdictions have different 'rules'). You can run with their advice if it feels appropriate.

I don't know if your state licensing board has any guidance, or, if you want to 'open that can of worms'.

Dik

RE: Environmental contamination on somebody else's property

Good luck.

You might try asking those you consult to imagine living near Love Canal, 15 yrs before it became obvious that there was a huge problem that someone actually knew about, had no vested interest, but didn't say anything. Aside from just sheer anger at the lack of ethical behavior, there would be anger at the sheer lack of humanity. I'd be tempted to sue even if there were no deep pockets to clean out.

TTFN (ta ta for now)
I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg
FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies forum1529: Translation Assistance for Engineers Entire Forum list http://www.eng-tips.com/forumlist.cfm

RE: Environmental contamination on somebody else's property

A good portion of ethics is about the question "when is it the wrong time to do the right thing?".

RE: Environmental contamination on somebody else's property

Quote:

In many cases, the current owner (by their own request) is not made aware of any discoveries and would have not reason to notify.

Believe that actively seeking to avoid knowledge of a potential liability is not legal.

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