Buyer Beware

is the recycling of all materials back into nature or the marketplace in a manner that protects human health and the environment.


'BUYER BEWARE'...of old landfills and contaminated property!   It is not unusual to find old landfills or randomly buried hazardous and non-hazardous waste under new or old homes, on farmland, or on commercial property - in cities, suburbs, and rural areas.


Refuse News reports that "...illegal dumping is on the increase throughout the U.S., and clean-up activities cost local governments hundreds of thousands of dollars," in a front page article in their June15, 1999 edition. Ft. Worth, Texas is spending $1 million to combat illegal dumping. See article: Illegal Dumping at Epidemic Levels.

"Open Dumping," particularly of concrete, asphalt, and vegetation, is a practice still in use in many areas. For example, Pennsylvania has regulations for "clean fill" that, in practice, allows "open dumping" - a violation of federal law. See: ZWA's Open Dumping.

Agricultural land, particularly sod farms and orchards, slated for residential development - may be contaminated with harmful chemicals. In one case, a housing development in New Jersey had much of its topsoil removed, after severe contamination was discovered. The homes were built on the site of a former orchard. See: NJ's webpage on Historic Pesticide Contamination

How should old landfills and contaminated sites be managed? Full remediation is the only answer.  Regardless of whether a property is used for residential or commercial use, health risks should be mitigated to the greatest extent possible. In the case of buried waste, although testing may not reveal any current contamination, decomposing waste may include any material (metals, plastics, organic matter, etc.) and will eventually contaminate the surrounding area. Old landfills should be vented in order to prevent landfill gases from migrating underground and consentrating in nearby buildings. These gases can be extremely harmful to health. Those living nearby should have their indoor air tested.

Too often, federal, state, and local officials do not keep records of old local landfills or contaminated sites. In addition, testing and remediation of contaminated sites by government agencies is frequently not comprehensive. In an unknown number of cases, the responsible party (i.e., the polluter) is allowed to control the testing and remediation, which is akin to allowing "the fox to guard the henhouse." This is why it is critical for property buyers to control, to the greatest extent possible, property testing and remediation activities.

To investigate property, owners can do the following:
  • Check EPA's Site Information page. From this Web page, you can view or download information about the nation's hazardous waste sites. These sites can be as small as a single contaminated well. Don't be surprised if a hazardouse waste site is located near you.
  • Talk to neighbors and local municipal officials to check for a history of dumping on your specific property and the surround area. Contamination from buried waste can migrate off-site.
  • Check local ordinances for prohibitions against dumping of construction/demolition debris. See: ZWA's Open Dumping.
  • Check County Aerial Photographs (if available) over the last several decades (may date back to the 1960's) for changes in topography that could indicate dumping activities.
  • Conduct Soil, Water (ground & surface), Air (landfill gases), testing for toxics, including radioactivity:

    If you suspect you are suffering from living on contaminated property, consult a health professional in environmental illnesses.   See: Health Impacts for referral information.

Environmental Consultants: Hire a firm outside of your county. If you hire a firm within your county, it could be counter-productive. The consultant may be closely connected to other local businesses and politicians. They may not represent your interests to the best of their ability. Also, check for certification (see below):