by | Automobile |

What if your vehicle is the cause?  What are the ramifications?

What is pollution?  According to Wikipedia, pollution is the introduction of contaminants into the natural environment that causes adverse change.

How can your vehicle cause pollution?  We all know that vehicle emissions add to air pollution, but vehicles can also be the source of land or water pollution if their operating fluids or cargo escapes.

A collision or roll-over can result in spillage of the vehicle’s operating fluids (oils, gasoline, diesel fuel, coolant, etc.).  While some of those fluids would involve a small spill, a ruptured fuel tank could release 10 to 200 gallons onto the roadway or surrounding area dependent upon whether the collision involves a car or a truck tractor.

Anyone who hauls hazardous liquids should be aware of the pollution potential if the cargo escapes, but some liquids that we don’t think of as hazardous can be pollutants as well.  Milk may be the perfect food, but is treated as a pollutant if it gets into a body of water because it changes the Ph balance of the water.

While we tend to think of liquids in conjunction with land or water pollution caused by vehicles, that isn’t always the case.

  • A truck rolled over dumping clean wood chips into sensitive wetlands next to the road.  The owner was ordered to remove the chips because, even though they were biodegradable and harvested only ten miles away, they were a foreign substance to the immediate area and could cause an adverse impact to the wetlands.
  • In a similar, but perhaps more understandable case, a trailer load of pressure treated lumber was dumped into a bay as the result of a collision and the trucking company was ordered to remove all the lumber from the water because the chemicals used to treat the lumber were considered contaminants.

If your vehicle is involved in a crash that results in a spill, how costly is it?  It depends on what the substance is, how much there is, where it is spilled and what the permanent damages may be.  As an example, it may cost very little to clean up a small amount of fluid spilled on a paved surface that can be contained and absorbed for disposal quickly.  On the other end of the spectrum, a tanker load of diesel fuel that spills into a waterway requiring pollution specialists to contain and remove it could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Will your Automobile policy protect you?  In most states, standard policies will not pay for clean-up of pollutants unless they are the vehicle’s normal operating fluids.  Coverage can typically be added by endorsement, however, and most insurers are willing to provide that coverage at a charge commensurate with the pollution potential.

What should you do?

Think about what the potential is for your vehicles to cause pollution incidents.  If you only have passenger cars, your standard policy may give you sufficient protection, and if you have tank trucks, it’s likely you’ve already addressed the issue, but:

  • Do you own mobile equipment and have tanks mounted in the beds of your pick-up trucks to refuel that equipment at job sites?
  • Do you transport cases of household cleaning products, milk, latex paint or other containerized liquids?
  • Do you haul solid goods that could release pollutants?

If you answer “yes” to any of the above questions, you may need to consider a pollution endorsement to your policy.

Determine what pollution coverage you have and what your options are if you believe any of your vehicles have the potential of causing a pollution incident and your policy may not adequately protect you.  Your independent insurance agent can help with this.  He or she can analyze your coverage and give you potential options and costs to endorse your policy, if needed.

Acadia is pleased to share this material with its customers.  Please note, however, that nothing in this document should be construed as legal advice or the provision of professional consulting services.  This material is for general informational purposes only, and while reasonable care has been utilized in compiling this information, no warranty or representation is made as to accuracy or completeness.  Distribution of this information does not constitute an assumption by us of your obligations to provide a safe workplace. Maintaining a safe workplace in accordance with all laws is your responsibility. We make no representation or warranty that our activities or recommendations will place you in compliance with law, relieve you of potential liability or ensure your premises or operations are safe. We exercise no control over your premises or operations and have no responsibility or authority to implement loss prevention practices or procedures.

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