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Feeling Woozy?

If it's from the toxins, call a doctor. If it's from inheriting someone else's mess, help is coming.

This story appears in the August 2002 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

It's not often a new law is cheered by so many parties normally in conflict. But the Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act, signed into law in January, is something small-business groups, environmentalists, developers and advocates for the inner city can all agree on. Focusing on commercial and industrial land contaminated by toxins, the new law overhauls some troubling aspects of CERCLA (The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act), the 1980 law that created the Superfund.

Under CERCLA, the EPA identifies sites, cleans them up, and seeks reimbursement from those responsible for the mess. The problem is old commercial and industrial sites may have changed hands many times, and the EPA was allowed to exact the entire cost of cleanup from any of the parties involved: whoever created the problem, the owner at the time of contamination, the lender who financed the purchase of the property, or, easiest to find, the current owner, who may have had nothing to do with it. Then the parties fight it out in the courts. The nightmare of and counter-lawsuits typically drags on for years.

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