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Environmental Contamination – The Basics

In an industrialized society like ours, a wide variety of contaminants are released to the environment every day from residential, commercial and industrial sources. Many of these releases, also referred to as discharges, may not pose a threat to the public and the environment. However, a significant release of a contaminant/hazardous substance has thepotential to impact human health or the environment. When a significant release occurs, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), particularly the Remediation and Redevelopment Program (RR Program), provides oversight and assistance in making sure the public and the environment are protected.

What is the RR Program?
The RR Program becomes involved when a release of a hazardous orpotentially hazardous substance occurs to the lands, waters or air in the State of Wisconsin. When a release is reported, the RR Program evaluates the severity of the release and, if necessary, ensures that the proper cleanup procedures are followed to minimize any threat to human health or the environment.

The RR Program also provides technical and regulatory assistance to public and privateparties looking for information, investigating and cleaning up properties with real or perceived contamination. In certain circumstances, the DNR is required to charge a fee for technical assistance. Attention is provided to abandoned or underutilized properties, known as brownfields, in an effort to return these properties back to productive use. This effort also promotes the revitalization ofblighted areas, as well as the reuse/redevelopment of properties already located in urban areas in order to preserve undeveloped land (also referred to as greenfields).

A Hazardous Substance, as defined in s. 292.01, Wis. Stats., means any substance or combination of substances, including any waste of a solid, semisolid, liquid or gaseous form which may cause or significantly contribute to anincrease in the mortality or an increase in serious irreversible or incapacitating reversible illness, or which may pose a substantial present or potential hazard to human health or the environment because of its quality, concentration or physical, chemical or infectious characteristics. This term includes, but is not limited to, substances that are toxic, corrosive, flammable, irritants, strongsensitizers or explosives as determined by the DNR.

Why should I be concerned?
Not only is it a legal requirement to take necessary steps to address contamination, but contamination can have an adverse impact on human health and the environment. It can take many forms and can occur anywhere. In Wisconsin, a primary concern for environmental impacts from contamination is the degradation of groundwaterquality. Soil, vapor, air and surface water contamination are also areas of concern. When a release to the environment has been identified, the DNR is mandated by state law to require response actions that are protective of human health, safety and welfare, and to restore the environment to the extent practicable. An individual or local government may assume liability for environmental cleanupsby acquiring a contaminated property. The Wisconsin Supreme Court has determined that if you own a contaminated property where contaminants are continuing to migrate, then you may be

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources PO Box 7921, Madison, WI 53707

responsible for cleaning it up, even if you did not cause the contamination because you are interpreted as having "possession and control"of the release. Stressed vegetation, stained soils, odors, a sheen on the surface of water, or a strange taste to water are often obvious indicators of a potential release and/or environmental problem. In addition to these more obvious factors, historical property usage such as plating operations, dry cleaners or engine repairs could also be indicative of other not-so-obvious environmental...
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