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Dry Cleaner's Toxic Leak
by Ron Davis

Dangerous contaminants that leaked into the ground at a Connecticut shopping center will cost the tenant responsible for the leakage a huge outlay of money for the cleanup.

The shopping center is located in the Hartford suburban community of Rocky Hill, and the tenant leased space there for some 20 years to operate a dry-cleaning business. That lease required the tenant to comply with all federal, state, and local laws.

In conducting the dry-cleaning business, however, the tenant routinely used the chemical known as perchloroethylene—or PCE—on items customers brought in for cleaning. PCE is a pollutant that is hazardous to the environment.

The equipment used by the tenant supposedly did not release any PCE outside the confines of the tenant space. But evidence eventually showed that PCE was in water that drains through a pipe onto the asphalt behind the tenant’s leased premises. The tenant disputed those findings, contending that the dry-cleaning equipment was self-contained as to contaminants and that the pipe was simply dripping harmless water.

The shopping center owner nevertheless in 2002 hired an environmental specialist to investigate the water that the tenant released. And he determined that the fluid discharged through the pipe onto the asphalt behind the tenant’s premises was PCE. That information apparently persuaded the tenant to try to remedy the problem. But not until years later did the tenant actually begin efforts in that regard. The tenant subsequently won a government award of close to $300,000 for use in cleaning up the contamination. But estimates of the true cost of the project are closer to half a million dollars. Moreover, one expert estimates that cleanup could last 10 years or more.

The shopping center owner responded to those findings by asking the courts to force the tenant to pay for the full cleanup.

A Connecticut court ordered the tenant to clean up the contaminants at the tenant’s expense and to bring the property into compliance with all local, state, and federal environmental laws and regulations. The judge also ordered the tenant “to reimburse the center’s owner for all costs incurred or to be incurred for the investigation and remediation of the contamination of the shopping center…caused by PCE and to reimburse the center’s owner for all costs to be incurred for the investigation and said remediation of the contamination in or about the tenant’s leased premises and any contamination emanating therefrom.”

The court then awarded payment to the center’s owner and assessed against the tenant of as much as $703,000 “as the cost of remediation.” (SVS II Partnership v. Patel, 2010 WL 625801 [Conn.Super.])

Decision: January 2010
Published: February 2010



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