Laws Governing Use And Impact Of Agricultural Chemicals: Agricultural Chemical Use And Liability For Water Pollution

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Laws Governing Use And Impact Of Agricultural Chemicals: Agricultural Chemical Use And Liability For Water Pollution
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Fact sheet
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Olexa, Michael T.
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University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences, EDIS
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"First published: November 1991. Date revised: September 1995."
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"FRE-76"

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FactSheetFRE-76 September1995LawsGoverningUseandImpactofAgriculturalChemicals: AgriculturalChemicalUseandLiabilityforWaterPollution1 MichaelT.Olexa2SIGNIFICANCEOFWATERPOLLUTION TOAGRICULTURERecently,protectionofbothgroundwaterand surfacewaterhasreceivedagreatdealofattentionas knowledgeofthescopeofcontaminationhas increased. TheUnitedStatesreliesongroundwatersources formorethanhalfofitsdrinkingwaterandformore thanaquarterofitstotalfreshwaterneeds.1In 1983,theEnvironmentalProtectionAgencyestimated thatonepercentofthenation'sgroundwatersupply wasalreadycontaminated,andthatthepercentageof contaminatedgroundwaterwasrapidlyincreasing.2Farmersgenerallyrelyheavilyongroundwater fortheirownconsumption,irrigationofcropsand wateringoflivestock.Pollutionofawellcan endangerthehealthofthefarmerandhisfamily,and subsequenttortliabilitycanputhimoutofbusiness. Groundwaterpollutionisrelevanttofarmersbecause theagriculturaluseofpesticidesandfertilizersis increasinglybeingcitedasamajorsourceofground waterpollution.Thus,afarmerwhopolluteshis neighbor'swellorcontributestothepollutionofa community'sdrinkingwatersupplymaybesubjectto heavyliability. Themisuseofagriculturalchemicalscandegrade groundwaterinseveralways.Irrigationback-flow wherechemicalsaremixedwiththeirrigationwater cancauseseriousgroundwaterpollution.Installation ofback-flowpreventionequipmentisaneffective deterrenttothisproblem.Over-applicationcancause excesschemicalstoleachorpercolateintothewater table.Carefuladherencetothepesticide'slabel,such asfollowingproperdosageinstructionscangreatly reducethelikelihoodofgroundwatercontamination. However,therehavebeenmanyinstanceswhere pesticideshavebeenappliedatthelabelratebut, becauseofacombinationofchemicalproperties,soil characteristics,hydrogeology,ormanagement practices,pesticideshaveleachedintogroundwater. Site-specificfactorsmustbetakenintoconsideration tominimizethepotentialforgroundwater contamination. 1.ThisdocumentisFactSheetFRE-76,aseriesoftheFoodandResourceEconomicsDepartment,FloridaCooperativeExtensionService, InstituteofFoodandAgriculturalSciences,UniversityofFlorida.Firstpublished:November1991.Daterevised:September1995. 2.MichaelT.Olexa,ProfessorandAgriculturalLawSpecialist,FoodandResourceEconomicsDepartment,CooperativeExtensionService, InstituteofFoodandAgriculturalSciences,UniversityofFlorida,GainesvilleFL32611. Thisdocumentisdesignedtoprovideaccurate,currentandauthoritativeinformationonthesubject.However,sincethelaws,administrativerulings, andcourtdecisionsonwhichitisbasedaresubjecttoconstantrevision,portionsofthispublicationcouldbecomeoutdatedatanytime.This publicationisdistributedwiththeunderstandingthattheauthorsarenotengagedinrenderinglegalorotherprofessionaladvice,andtheinformation containedhereinshouldnotberegardedasasubstituteforprofessionaladvice.Forthesereasons,theutilizationofthesematerialsbyanyperson constitutesanagreementtoholdharmlesstheauthors,theInstituteofFoodanAgriculturalSciences,andtheUniversityofFloridaforanyliability claims,damages,orexpensesthatmaybeincurredbyanypersonasaresultofreferencetoorrelianceontheinformationcontainedinthis publication. TheInstituteofFoodandAgriculturalSciencesisanequalopportunity/affirmativeactionemployerauthorizedtoprovideresearch,educational informationandotherservicesonlytoindividualsandinstitutionsthatfunctionwithoutregardtorace,color,sex,age,handicap,ornational origin.Forinformationonobtainingotherextensionpublications,contactyourcountyCooperativeExtensionServiceoffice. FloridaCooperativeExtensionService/InstituteofFoodandAgriculturalSciences/UniversityofFlorida/ChristineTaylorStephens,Dean

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AgriculturalChemicalUseandLiabilityforWaterPollution Page2Wheregroundwaterisinterconnectedwith surfacewater,runoffanderosioncancauseground waterpollutionbyagriculturalchemicals.3Because nitratesarehighlysolublecompoundsandcanleach intogroundwater,pollutionfromfertilizerisan increasingproblem,particularlyintheMidwest.4Carefuladherencetolocal,state,andfederalerosion controlregulationsandrecommendationscangreatly reducethechancesofsurfaceandgroundwater pollutionaswellaspreservesoilqualityandfertility. Impropercleaningordisposalofcontainers,as wellasmixingandloadingofpesticidesinanarea whereresiduesorrun-offarelikelytothreaten surfaceorgroundwater,areotherpotentialsources ofcontamination.Somepesticideproductlabelsand somestatestatutesnotethedistancesfromwellheads forsafemixingandloadingofpesticides.Again, closeattentiontolabelinginstructionsandstate statutesorlocalordinancescanreduceoreliminate thepotentialtopollutegroundwater. Agriculturalchemicalsalsohavehighpotentialfor pollutingsurfacewaterthroughaccidents,erosion, irrigationreturnflow,andrunoff.Aswithground water,afarmercanbeheldliableforsurfacewater pollutionresultingfromtheuseofagricultural chemicals.Tohelpavoidsurfacewellpollution, farmersshouldconsiderpesticideandsoil characteristicsandsitecharacteristics,suchas hydrogeologyandclimate.BestManagement Practicesdevelopedbythestatesandbythefederal governmentpursuanttotheFederalCleanWaterAct shouldbecloselyfollowednotonlytoavoidviolating theAct,butalsotoreducethechanceoftortliability forsurfacewaterpollution.BestManagement Practicesplaceaheavyemphasisonerosioncontrol, stormandirrigationwatermanagement,and IntegratedPestManagementTechniques.5Thegrowingattentiontogroundandsurface waterisreflectedintheattitudesofthecourtsand statelegislaturestowardpolluters.6Violationofwater protectionlawsandregulationsincreasinglyleadto theimpositionofharshlegaldoctrines,especially strictliabilityandnegligenceperse,againstpolluters. Instateswherestrictliabilityisunavailable,aplaintiff maystillfindacauseofactioninnuisance,trespass, ornegligence.Usersofagriculturalchemicalsare becomingincreasinglysubjecttonon-pointsource pollutionregulations,whichmanystatesarecurrently implementingtomeettherequirementsoftheClean WaterAct.7Thistrendisalsobolsteredbyanincreasing numberofstatestatuteswithcriminalpenaltiesfor waterpollution.Forinstance,a1993Hawaiistatute allowsthestatetoimposeafineforusingpesticides inamannerwhichallowsthemtoreachadrinking watersource.8Also,a1994Californialawprohibits theknowingdischargeorreleasetoasourceof drinkingwaterofachemicalknowntocausecancer orreproductivetoxicity.California'slistofchemicals includesmanypesticideingredients.9Theremainderofthispublicationisdevotedto legalprinciplesofparticularimportancebecauseof theirgrowingsignificanceinthelitigationofwater pollutionissuescloselytiedtoagriculturalchemicals.NUISANCETraditionally,plaintiffsdamagedbywater pollutionhavebroughtactionsunderthelawof nuisance.Nuisancesuitsareofteneasierforplaintiffs towin,sincetheyneednotprovethatthedefendant tookanyparticularactiontoharmthem,onlythat someoffendingconditionexistsbecauseofthe defendant,andtheoffendingconditionis unreasonable.Actionsforprivateandpublic nuisancemaybedistinguishedbydeterminingwhois harmedbythepollutionatissue. Aprivatenuisanceactionmightarise,for example,whereaplaintiff'sprivatewellis contaminatedbychemicalsappliedtothelandofa neighboringfarmerorgroupoffarmers.Theplaintiff inthisactionmustprovethatthepollutionhas interferedwiththeplaintiff'srightofenjoymentofhis propertyandmustalsoprovetheinterferencewas substantial.Inaddition,theplaintiffmustconvince thecourtthattheinterferenceisunreasonable;that is,theharmsufferedbytheplaintiffoutweighsthe overallutilitytosocietyofthedefendant'sconduct. Inmakingthisfinaldetermination,thecourtwilltake thenatureoftheareaandthenatureoftheaction intoaccount. Apublicnuisanceaction,ontheotherhand, mightfollowifthechemicalscontaminatedapublic watersupply.Inthisevent,theplaintiff(oftenastate orlocalofficial),mustshowthedefendantis conductinganactivitywhichconstitutesasubstantial andunreasonableinterferencewitharightcommon tothegeneralpublicratherthananindividualright. Indeterminingwhethertheactivityisunreasonable, thecourtmustconsideranystatuteorregulation relatingtotheactivity,whethertheactivityis,by

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AgriculturalChemicalUseandLiabilityforWaterPollution Page3nature,continuing,andwhethertheactivitywillhave apermanentorlong-lastingeffect.STRICTLIABILITYInBranchv.WesternPetroleum ,10theUtah SupremeCourtupheldtheapplicationofstrict liabilityasgroundsforrecoveryofdamagescausedby thepollutionofgroundwaterwithsaltwaterusedin drillingoperations.Thecourtheldthatstoringsalt waterbrineinpondswhereitcouldcontaminate groundwaterwasan"abnormallydangerousactivity" andtheimpositionofstrictliabilitywasjustified.11Courtshavealsoappliedstrictliabilityincases involvingseepageofminewastesandleakagefromoil andgasolinepipelinesandstoragetanks.12JOINTANDSEVERALLIABILITYBecausewater,especiallygroundwater,hasmany sources,andmaybevulnerabletocontaminationat manypoints,itmaybedifficult,ifnotimpossiblefor aplaintifftodeterminetheoriginofpollutants. Consequentlytheplaintiffmayalsohavedifficultyin determininginwhatdegreeeachofseveral defendantsisresponsiblefortheharmresultingfrom thesepollutants.13Ifthecourtappliestheprinciple ofjointandseveralliability,however,eachdefendant maybeheldresponsiblefortheentiredamageifthe plaintiffcanshowthedefendant'sactivitieswerea "substantialfactor"inthecreationofthecondition thatcausedinjurytotheplaintiff. Thecourtmayimposejointandseveralliabilityin twosituations:(1)wheredefendantsactedtogether inthecommissionofawrongfulact,or(2)wherethe independentwrongfulactionsofthegroupproduced asingle,indivisibleharm. Inpollutionaction,then,theplaintiffmight recoversimplybyshowingthatadefendant contributedtothecontamination,asillustratedbyD &WJones,Inc.v.Collier,etal. .14Inthiscase,the defendantshadsprayedtheircropswithapesticide whichhadpoisonedtheplaintiff'sfishponds,killing thefish.15Thecourtstatesthegeneralrule: Wheretheseparateandindependentactsof severaltortfeasors...combinetoproducedirectly asingleinjury,eachisresponsiblefortheentire result,eventhoughhisactalone,withoutthe concurrenceoftheothertort,wouldnothave causedtheinjury;anditisnotnecessarythat theybeactingtogetherorinconcertiftheir concurringtortsoccasionedtheinjury...Each tortfeasorisresponsiblefortheentireinjury.16DAMAGESAVAILABLETOPLAINTIFFS ActualDamagesIntortsuits,plaintiffsmayrecoveranamount equaltotheactualdamagetheysufferedasaresult ofthedefendant'sactions.Incaseswhereasingle, privatelyownedwatersourceispermanently contaminatedbyasinglepolluter,determiningthe amountofdamagesissimplyamatterofdetermining thelossinvalueofthepropertyasaresultofthe pollution. However,thisformulamaybecomplicatedbya numberofvariablesincludingsituationswherethe watersupplyforagreatnumberofpeopleis contaminated,wheretherearemanypossiblesources forthecontamination,orwheretheplaintiffsuffers physicalharmasaresultofthecontamination.In fixingtheamountofactualdamages,thecourtwill looktosuchconsiderationsasthenatureanddegree ofthecontaminationandtheresultingharm,the proportionalresponsibilityofeachindividual defendant,theavailabilityofmeasurestocorrectthe contamination,anddegreetowhicheachdefendant actedintentionallyorrecklesslyincreatingtheharm.PunitiveDamagesSeveralcourtshaveallowedtherecoveryof punitivedamagesagainstdefendantswhoknowingly causedharmfulpollutionorwhoseconductotherwise showedblatantdisregardfortherightsofothersand theconsequencesofpollution.17InMillerv.Cudahy Company,Inc. ,18involvingextensivepollutionofan aquifer,thecourtimposedanawardofover$4 millioninactualdamagesand$10millioninpunitive damages.Thecourtgavethedefendanttheoptionto eithercleanupthepollutionorpaythepunitive damagesaward.19Traditionally,defendantscannot forcetheirinsurancecompaniestopaypunitive damagesand,therefore,mustbeartheburden themselves.OtherReliefThecourtsmayalsoimposeothertypesofrelief whereappropriate.Thecourtmayissueinjunctions, forinstance,topreventacontinuingnuisanceor pollution.

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AgriculturalChemicalUseandLiabilityforWaterPollution Page4DEFINITIONS,ABBREVIATIONS ANDACRONYMS CitationDefinitionsEtseq.:andthefollowing Id:thesame;usedtoindicateareference previouslymade. Infra:within;usedtoindicateareferencemade inalaterpartofthepaper. Supra:above;usedtoindicateareferencemade inapreviouspartofthepaper.DefinitionsActualDamages --Theamountawardedtoa plaintiffincompensationoftheplaintiff'sactual andreallossorinjury. CommonLaw --Itisabodyoflawthatdevelops andderivesthroughjudicialdecisions,as distinguishedfromlegislativeenactments. Enjoin --Torequireaperson,bywritof injunction,toperform,ortoabstainordesist from,someact. Injunctions --Acourtorderprohibitingsomeone fromdoingsomespecifiedactorcommanding someonetoundosomewrongorinjury. Inherentlydangerous --Dangerinheringinan instrumentalityorconditionitselfatalltimes,so astorequirespecialprecautionstopreventinjury; notdangerarisingfrommerecasualorcollateral negligenceofotherswithrespecttounder particularcircumstances. NominalDamages --Thetriflingsumawardedto aplaintiffinanaction,wherethereisno substantiallossorinjurytobecompensated,but stillthelawrecognizesatechnicalinvasionofhis rightsorabreachofthedefendant'sduty. PunitiveDamages --Damagesthatareaboveand beyondthatwhichwouldcompensatetheplaintiff forhisloss.Theyarebasedonthepublicpolicy ofpunishingadefendantwhoactedwillfully, maliciously,orfraudulently. StatutoryLaw --Thebodyoflawcreatedbyacts ofthelegislatureincontrasttoconstitutionaland commonlaw. Definitionsaretakenfrom Black'sLawDictionary 1990edition.AbbreviationsC.F.R.:CodeofFederalRegulations U.S.C.:UnitedStatesCodeAcronymListBMP-BestManagementPractices CERCLA-ComprehensiveEnvironmental Response,Compensation,andLiabilityAct CZMA-CoastalZoneManagementAct DOT-DepartmentofTransportation EPA-EnvironmentalProtectionAgency ESA-EndangeredSpeciesAct FAA-FederalAviationAdministration FACT-Food,Agriculture,Conservation,and TradeAct FDA-FoodandDrugAdministration FFDCA-FederalFood,Drug,andCosmeticAct FIFRA-FederalInsecticide,Fungicide,and RodenticideAct IPM-IntegratedPestManagement MCL-MaximumContaminantLevel MCLG-MaximumContaminantLevelGoals NPDES-NationalPollutionDischarge EliminationSystem OSHA-OccupationalSafetyandHealthAct PPE-PersonalProtectiveEquipment RCRA-ResourceConservationandRecovery Act RCWP-RuralCleanWaterProgram REI-Restricted-EntryInterval SARA-SuperfundAmendmentsand ReauthorizationAct TPQ-ThresholdPlanningQuantity USDA-UnitedStatesDepartmentofAgriculture WPS-WorkerProtectionStandardACKNOWLEDGEMENTSTheauthorisindebtedtolegalresearchersSusan Kubar,ToniCunninghamandPatrickMeriwetherof theUniversityofFloridaCollegeofLawandthose stateandfederalagencypersonnelwhogaveoftheir timeandadviceinthepreparationofthispublication. Thispublicationissupportedinpartbyagrant fromtheNationalAgriculturalPesticideImpact AssessmentProgram(NAPIAP)oftheUnitedStates DepartmentofAgriculture.

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AgriculturalChemicalUseandLiabilityforWaterPollution Page51.TimothyR.Hendersonetal.,EnvironmentalLawInstitute,Groundwater:StrategiesforStateAction 1(1985). 2.Id .at17. 3.RobertL.GlickmanandGeorgeC.Coggins,GroundWaterPollutionI:TheProblemandtheLaw ,35Kan.L.Rev. 75,82(1986). 4.TheU.S.GeologicalServicefoundthat20%ofmorethanathousandwellstestedinKansashadnitrate/nitrogenconcentrations inexcessofEPAcriteriafordrinkingwater.Id .at88. 5.See MichaelT.Olexa,AgriculturalChemicalsandWaterPollution ,notes9-15andaccompanyingtext. 6.1WilliamH.Rogers,Jr.,EnvironmentalLaw:AirandWater at43-7. 7.See supra note5. 8.Haw.Rev.Stat. A-32.5(1993). 9.Cal.Health&SafetyCode .5(1994). 10.657P.2d267(Utah1982). 11.Id .at274. 12.Seegenerally ,PeterN.Davis,GroundwaterPollution:CaseLawTheoriesforRelief ,39Mo.L.Rev. 117(1974). 13.Oftenthesourceofcontaminationisobvious.Forexample,ifanoilcompanyinjectssaltbrineintoanexploratoryoilwellinorder tobringoiltothesurface,andthefarmerwholivesdownhillfromthecompany'ssaltwaterholdingpondsdiscoversthathiswell hasbeencontaminatedbysaltwater,theeasyassumptionisthattheoilcompanyisresponsibleforthepollution,andthisiseasily proven.See BranchvWesternPetroleum ,supra note10,andCitiesServiceOilCompanyv.Merritt ,332P.2d677(Okla.1958), reh'gdenied ,Dec.2,1958.Mostreportedlawsuitsforgroundwaterpollutionareofthistype,wherethesourceofpollutionisclear. But see MagnoliaPetroleumCo.v.Williams ,76So.2d365(Miss.1954),whereseveralpossiblepolluterswerelocatedinthearea andthecourtruledthatcausationwasnotprovenwithsufficientdefiniteness. 14.372So.2d288(Miss.1979),reh'gdenied ,July28,1979. 15.Id .at288-89. 16.Id .at292.See also 86C.J.S.Torts ,adoptedbythecourt.Atortfeasorisawrong-doer;anindividualorbusinessthatcommits orisguiltyofatort.Black'sLawDictionary 1489(6thed.1990). 17.See CitiesServiceOilCompanyv.Merritt ,supra note13,andBranchv.WesternPetroleumCo .,supra notes10,13. 18.592F.Supp.976(D.Kan.1984). 19.Id .at1008-9.