Many employers engage in manufacturing, production, or disposal of items that involve potentially harmful substances that can impact human health and the environment. Federal laws protect our water, air, soil, and bodies from a variety of toxins, and hold companies accountable for the proper management and disposal of these pollutants. Employees who report violations of these laws protect the public and the environment from serious risks, performing a vital service to the community.
What Laws Protect Environmental Whistleblowers?
Numerous federal statutes provide whistleblower protection to employees who report potential violations of environmental standards. The laws generally prohibit employers from retaliating against an employee by terminating or otherwise unfavorably treating the employee who has reported violations of environmental laws or regulations. Environmental statutes with protections for whistleblowers include:
- Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA): AHERA was passed in 1986 in response to findings by Congress that some primary and secondary schools contained friable asbestos that could harm schoolchildren. It was designed primarily to compel the EPA to address the problem of asbestos in schools and to coordinate inspections of U.S. educational facilities by establishing accreditation standards for private contractors. The Act also provides employee protection against retaliation for reporting violations of environmental laws relating to asbestos in elementary and secondary school systems, whether public or non-profit private.
- Clean Air Act: The Clean Air Act is a comprehensive statute establishing standards for air quality, acceptable pollutants, and related reporting and inspection procedures. The act was passed to protect people, animals, plants, habitats, and the atmosphere from the harmful effects of airborne pollution. The specific provisions of the statute are exhaustive, as it covers many aspects of air pollution. However, whistleblower cases are most often brought when a company misrepresents its emissions levels or fails to comply with reporting and cleanup standards. An employer may not retaliate against an employee who reports any misreporting or noncompliance by the employer.
- Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA): Congress passed CERCLA in response to concerns over the release of hazardous waste into the environment. Also known as the Superfund legislation, CERCLA established a tax on the chemical and petroleum industries to establish a trust fund to subsidize the cleanup of abandoned or uncontrolled hazardous waste sites. CERCLA provides for liability, compensation, and emergency response for hazardous substances that have been released or are threatening to be released into the environment. Employees are protected if they have provided information to the local or federal government, have filed a complaint about their employer under the Act, or have participated in any CERCLA proceeding – for example by testifying or aiding in an investigation – against her or his employer.
- Federal Water Pollution Act: The Federal Water Pollution Control Act or “Clean Water Act” is analogous to the Clean Air Act described above. It prohibits the release of hazardous levels of pollution into any waters that constitute a natural habitat for living things. As with the Clean Air Act, an employee who reports any misrepresentations or noncompliance by the employer is protected.
- Safe Drinking Water Act: The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) concerns lead levels in drinking water from both above-ground and underground sources. Under the SDWA, any public building – whether constructed before or after the passage of the SDWA – must have lead-free drinking water. Additionally, any new construction -– public or private — must have lead-free drinking water. Employees are protected from retaliation for reporting potential violations of the law.
- Solid Waste Disposal Act: The Solid Waste Disposal Act regulates the management of hazardous waste. It also provides funds for and assists in the development of technology and facilities to recover energy and other commodities from waste. An employee is protected for reporting abuses of funding and assistance, violation of waste management requirements, or other potential violations of the Act.
- Toxic Substances Control Act: The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) regulates the thousands of industrial chemicals produced or imported into the United States to protect the health and safety of humans and the environment. It sets guidelines for the EPA’s testing, inspection, and tracking of industrial chemicals. TSCA also allows the EPA to ban the manufacture of chemicals it considers to pose an unreasonably high risk. An employee who reports potential violations of TSCA or in any way assists in proceedings or investigations of such violations is protected from employment retaliation.
Why Hire KMB For Your Environmental Whistleblower Case?
Whether to report concerns about violations of environmental standards — and, if so, when, how and to whom — can be a very difficult decision for an employee, as blowing the whistle on an employer’s unlawful practices can be a career-ending move. However, the environmental whistleblower laws provides strong legal protections, and employees who raise these concerns can look to a number of resources for assistance. If you are thinking about reporting such concerns, or if you already have and are facing retaliation, contact the experienced whistleblower lawyers at Katz, Marshall & Banks, LLP. Your communications with us are confidential and without charge or further obligation.