It is beyond comprehension why anyone would consider buying or selling a drycleaning plant before conducting an evaluation and inspection. And yet, it happens all the time.
I perform inspections on an average of two plants per month. In the same time, 30 to 40 operations nationwide probably change hands without an inspection from an environmental expert.
Today, I represent six drycleaners with contaminated properties in active lawsuits. Most went into the buying and selling process as if there were no problems to consider.
There are as many formulas for figuring the sale price for a drycleaning plant as there are ways to press clothes, but that’s a topic for another article. One must always consider the potential liabilities involved with the sale of a plant, including any environmental concerns. They can have considerable impact on a plant’s value.
You’d think potential buyers would have a host of questions, but few get asked. I may get one call a month from someone seeking information about an environmental inspection of a plant for sale. Most just plunge ahead with no regard for the consequences of the horror they may inherit.
If you think you aren’t buying the environmental liability of a drycleaning plant when you consider buying one, think again. Regardless of what solvent the plant uses (most solvents, including water, will be regulated someday) you may be subject to CERCLA and RCRA laws due to the waste streams produced in processing clothes.
According to the “cradle-to-grave” specifics of the law, if a mess was created under your watch, it’s your problem — as a past owner, you will always be responsible for the plant’s activity. But the same holds true for the unsuspecting potential new owner.
FEEL THE LOVE
There is no point in arguing that a waste stream has little or no solvent in it — someone sitting at a desk in a faraway place has decided that there’s enough solvent in all waste streams to make them potentially hazardous. What’s sillier, though, is the logic behind the environmentalists’ and politicians’ arguments — that there is a toxicological aspect to solvent use today. In my opinion, that’s a lot of bull.
The fact that big chemical companies once carelessly tossed drums of hazardous chemicals into Love Canal is no reason to lump drycleaners into the same group of scofflaws; none of us would knowingly toss hazardous waste. We didn’t even know what hazardous waste was until the 1984 RCRA laws.
Filters used with any machine or solvents are not safe to throw away. Why? Because such a practice might put us in the same mess we found ourselves in with perc. We didn’t know then what it would do in soil and groundwater; the same holds true today for other solvents.
It’s risky to assume that the government won’t legislate every solvent and all byproducts of their use — filters, lint, still residues and contact water. I wish I could say otherwise, and I don’t envy solvent users who wonder what the future holds.
People should avoid making declarations that a particular solvent is completely safe from scrutiny. The most extreme environmentalists have a grudge against all solvents and against drycleaning in general, I believe, and want to see the process disappear.
So it’s caveat emptor, or “let the buyer beware,” as the lawyers say. Do your due diligence, and you won’t buy a pig in a poke. Don’t just ask, insist that the owner turn over all of his records for as far back as possible, and do your research.
Hopefully, the owner will have solvent records, maintenance records and annual reports covering the solvent mileage of every machine. Insist on a paper trail — that’s what I do when I inspect a plant. If the owner doesn’t have any records, don’t walk, run, from the sale as fast as you can.