In a town about 30 minutes’ drive south from Boston, there is a former fireworks factory. The factory made and tested munitions there for more than 60 years. Its operations left the soil and water there with high concentrations of chemicals, including mercury and lead. The pollution is so bad that the site qualifies for the federal Superfund program. However, the town government instead will receive $70 million from a fund the owners negotiated with federal prosecutors.
Press reports have not mentioned the owners’ insurance coverage. This situation illustrates why businesses need environmental liability insurance.
Most businesses buy commercial general liability insurance policies. For decades, CGL policies have not covered the large sums necessary to repair environmental damage. They emphasize that they do not cover liability for injuries or property damage arising out of the actual or suspected release of pollutants. The term “pollutants” includes solids, liquids and gases, such as smoke, fumes, acids, chemicals, and waste products. While the policies may provide some limited coverage for pollution incidents, the insurers’ clear intention is to not cover most of them.
For this reason, insurers have created different types of environmental liability insurance. The Insurance Information Institute describes several of them. The owners of the fireworks factory needed environmental impairment liability insurance. This coverage applies to incidents first reported during the policy term and occurring after a specified date. For example, the date might be one, five or ten years before the date the policy took effect.
The insurance applies to the policyholder’s legal liability for pollution-related damages to specific locations. It covers the costs of government-required clean-ups of contaminated sites. It also covers damages the business owes to third parties for injuries or property damage. The cost of defending the business against associated lawsuits is also covered.
EIL coverage applies to sudden incidents, such as when a chemical storage container ruptures. It also covers gradual losses, such as when pollutants leak over a long period of time into the ground or a stream. The insurer will ordinarily inspect a site prior to providing coverage, to verify that it is not contaminated.
There are other types of environmental insurance policies as well.
– Environmental contractor liability insurance covers the operations of firms that clean up sites.
– Contractors pollution liability insurance covers pollution incidents at job sites.
– Environmental testing laboratory liability insurance covers mistakes labs make when analyzing soil, water and air.
– Pollution clean-up indemnity insurance covers ships and vessels carrying oil or other toxic substances.
– Underground storage tank pollution liability insurance covers property owners who store fuel or oil in UST’s.
– Errors and omissions insurance covers environmental consultants. It can also cover real estate agents and lenders who work with properties that turn out to be contaminated.
Massachusetts officials have pegged the cost of cleaning up the site of the old fireworks factory at up to $100 million. Costs like that can bankrupt a business. Any business or landowner who works with or suspects the presence of toxic substances should discuss this important insurance with a professional agent. If they are to survive environmental damage claims, they need this vital protection.
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