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Industrial Orphan Sites

Orphans are sites contaminated by a release of hazardous substances that poses serious threats to human health or the environment, where the parties responsible for the contamination are unknown, unable or unwilling - to pay for needed remedial actions.

Frequently asked questions about industrial orphan sites

To request a current list of industrial orphan sites, please submit your request through our publics records request portal.

DEQ requests detailed financial information from potentially liable persons claiming an inability to pay for cleanup. DEQ uses this confidential information to determine if the party is in fact unable to afford some or all of the cleanup. A person does not have to be bankrupt to be found unable to pay. Typical Orphan cleanup actions are expensive, and many individuals are unable to pay for them. If there is no liable party identified when cleanup actions are needed, DEQ will use available state funding to conduct the work. DEQ may later recover part of its cleanup costs by negotiating a lump-sum payment from an individual or business, or by working out a repayment plan.

Individuals and companies that DEQ identifies as being potentially responsible for contamination can challenge that liability determination. At highly contaminated sites, however, it may not be prudent for DEQ to wait for months or years while trying to force a party to conduct a cleanup. In these cases, DEQ may use state funds now to reduce or eliminate immediate threats to humans or the environment, and later turn its attention to recovering costs from recalcitrant parties that are liable for contamination.

A typical orphan site is a property with soil and/or groundwater contamination, where the party responsible for the contamination has gone out of business, and may also have left behind hazardous substances in tanks or drums. Sometimes a company is still operating, but is too small to afford the cleanup. Another type of orphan project is an area-wide site where drinking-water wells have been contaminated, but the source of the contamination is unknown.

If hazardous substances have been dumped or abandoned at a site, one of DEQ's Orphan contractors will arrange to remove or contain the hazards. At other sites, the contractor may collect soil and groundwater samples to determine the degree and extent of contamination. DEQ staff oversee the contractors' work, which continues at least until a site is stabilized and no longer presents significant threats to humans or the environment.

Failure to clean up orphan Sites may endanger public health and the environment (including groundwater and municipal drinking water sources). Contamination will continue to spread, affecting water, soil, people, and adjacent properties. Costs will increase with time, because the more contamination spreads, the more expensive it becomes to clean up. Conversely, a viable Orphan and Enforcement program encourages careful handling of hazardous substances, and removes any competitive advantage for businesses engaged in sloppy waste-management practices. Finally, contaminated property is economically unproductive land. Contamination that remains will continue to devalue building, land, and water assets on the affected and neighboring properties.

Orphan Site cleanups are currently funded in one of two ways. Landfill cleanups are financed by the solid waste orphan site account, which relies on a special assessment on solid waste disposal. Cleanups at other Orphan Sites, known as industrial orphans, have been funded through the sale of long-term bonds. Since 1992, DEQ has issued bonds totaling about $38 million. Debt on these bonds has been repaid with state general funds and hazardous-substance possession fees. For both solid waste and industrial orphans, when funds are recovered, either from identified responsible parties or through agreements with persons wishing to purchase Orphan Sites, they may then be spent on other orphan cleanups.

You can purchase an orphan Site at any time, but if the site hasn't been cleaned up yet, DEQ strongly urges you to negotiate a Prospective Purchaser Agreement first. Knowingly purchasing a contaminated site without such an Agreement may leave you liable for the full costs of cleaning up the site.


For more information, contact the Environmental Cleanup Program or call 800-452-4011.