Court Holds That CERCLA Does Not Apply To Disposal Of A “Naturally Occurring” Hazardous Substance

In a summary judgment opinion in Hobart Corporation, et al. v. The Dayton Power & Light Company, et al., 3:13-cv-115, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio held that untreated wood and wood ash from burning untreated wood is not a CERCLA “hazardous substance”. The Court found that even if wood ash contains small amounts of naturally occurring hazardous substances, that does not trigger CERCLA liability. The opinion considered whether two waste hauling companies could be found liable under CERCLA as transporters of “hazardous substances” where the companies had only disposed untreated wood pallets, cardboard, and limited construction debris. The Court found that untreated wood was not a “hazardous substance” under CERCLA because “the mere fact that wood naturally contains elements that are on the list of hazardous substances does not mean wood itself is a hazardous substance.” The Court extends this reasoning to wood ash from burning untreated wood. The Court’s decision declines to follow other decisions that stated that any trace component of a hazardous substance triggers CERCLA liability, finding that the prior decisions involved manmade materials with components of a hazardous substance, not naturally occurring materials. The Court reasons that extending this standard to naturally occurring materials would produce an absurd result because nearly everything contains small amounts of naturally occurring hazardous substances. The opinion can be found here:

Hobart v. Dayton Power & Light, Summary Judgment Ruling

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