There are two general types of concerns relating to hazardous or toxic materials. The first are hazardous or toxic materials that already exist at or near the site either in or on the ground or in structures on the site. These must be identified to protect the future users of the site once the project is completed. Examples of this include asbestos and lead based paint in structures being modified or demolished and contamination of soil or groundwater from a leaking underground storage tank (UST). The second concern is hazardous and toxic materials that are brought to the site because of the project, most likely during the construction phase but also possibly because of the nature of the operation of the project, such as a water treatment plant. Examples of this include special paints, sealants, fuels, chemicals, or solvents.
When hazardous substances are involved there are usually increased costs associated with the investigation, characterization, removal, and disposal. Who pays for these costs usually depends on who is responsible for the presence of the materials and whether or not violations of environmental laws occurred. Therefore it is important to conduct a little research on the property to see if there a reason to suspect contaminates from a current or past use. FEMA cannot fund the buyout of a contaminated site unless it has been cleaned up to appropriate standards.
One of the best ways to determine if hazardous materials may be present in your project area is to visit the project site. Some of the visible indicators that hazardous materials could be present include stains on the ground and dead or dying vegetation; pipes protruding from the ground; piles of waste materials including abandoned automobiles or farm equipment; electrical transformers or batteries; and discarded or partially buried metal drums or other containers.
If the site has had a spill, incident, or permitted activity associated with it, it is likely that there will be a record of it in a government database. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maintains a searchable database that is available on its web page. In addition, the EPA has delegated permitting and cleanup responsibilities to the states. EPA maintains a web page to help find state environmental agencies.
Input from the agency responsible for hazardous waste management regarding the potential for nearby hazardous conditions could affect the design of your project. It may be possible to contact the agency directly to get a quick response.
If your project involves a building that was built before 1976, it is likely to have asbestos containing materials, lead based paint and other household hazardous materials. It is important that you document the potential for these materials to occur and to indicate how they will be managed or disposed of during the implementation of the project, as well as the cost of these measures. Most localities have standards on how to handle these materials. Be sure to get estimates on how much it will cost to dispose of these materials and include it as a line item on your cost estimate and scope of work.