Teach Your Employees Environmental Safety Requirements

A cautionary tale.

David L. Rieser, writing in the K & L Gates Construction Law Blog, reemphasizes why it is vitally important for contractors to ensure that all their field personnel, from job superintendents to laborers understand, and comply with, environmental safety regulations.

Mr. Rieser uses an incident on a “major construction site in downtown Chicago” to illustrate his point. A worker on this project pumped “thousands of gallons of silty water … into the river in full view of thousands of commuters walking over the bridges from the local train station.”

“An editor for the Chicago Tribune took a very graphic picture” of this incident and “posted it on Twitter where it was seen by employees of the Illinois EPA and the Illinois Attorney General’s office, who promptly sued the construction companies and the site owner for violation of federal and state clean water laws.”

From what Mr. Rieser recounts of the incident, it does not appear that the employee’s action were malevolent. But it’s obvious he was completely unaware of the requirements of the state and federal clean water laws.

According to Mr. Rieser, the man who pumped the silty water into the river was not entirely to blame; “he had supervisors who either directed him or didn’t give him enough direction. Other supervisors on site who weren’t paying enough attention to what he was doing and still other supervisors who didn’t sufficiently stress that not pumping stuff into the river was as important as any other job on site.”

This is potentially a very costly mistake for the contractors and owners of the project. “Fines under the Illinois Environmental Protection Act can run up to $10,000 per day, per violation.” Federal fines are considerably higher.

The author recommends that construction companies;

  1. “Have a written plan for managing storm water.”

  2. “Train and work with the employees to make sure it’s implemented.”

These steps cost far less than paying fines for violating environmental regulations.

It’s reasonable to assume that the contractors on this job were aware that it is illegal to pump polluted water directly into a river and that in the usual frenzy of a large construction project they failed to maintain control of details, such as the removal of storm water, assuming all their personnel knew what the regulations require.

This will undoubtedly be a costly assumption.


DON’T DUMP STUFF IN THE RIVER, DAVID l. Rieser, K & L Gates Construction Law Blog, November 16, 2018.

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