Why All Trade Contractors Must Consider Pollution Liability

Authors Sam Clayton, ARM, CRIS, Vice President, Construction Group and Daniel Frazee, ARM, CRIS, Executive Vice President, Rancho Mesa Insurance Services, Inc.


Contractor’s Pollution Liability (CPL), once viewed as expensive and unnecessary, has now become an integral part of every trade and environmental contractor’s insurance program. The industry is seeing requirements for this coverage from a combination of building owners, developers and general contractors for projects of all sizes.

Protecting contractors from pollution exposure by transferring this risk to a CPL policy supports a best practice approach. Contractors' pollution liability insurance provides coverage for third party bodily injury, property damage and pollution clean-up costs as a result of pollution conditions for which the contractor may be responsible. A pollution condition can include the discharge of pollutants brought to the job site, a release of pre-existing pollutants at the site or other pollution conditions due to the performance of the contractor’s or a lower tier subcontractor’s operations. In addition to the potential loss of reputation, often overlooked expenses that can negatively impact a profit & loss statement are the costs incurred to defend a company involved in a pollution claim.

Contractors who choose not to purchase Contractor’s Pollution Liability Insurance generally fall into two categories. Many believe that their operations do not have a pollution exposure. And countless others assume that their Commercial General Liability (CGL) policies offer protection in the event a pollution claim arises. Neither of these assumptions is accurate. Pollution coverage is not commonly found in CGL policies by virtue of the Total Pollution Exclusion. This form excludes pollution coverage for any bodily injury, property damage and/or the clean-up costs. Examples of pollution incidents apply to many different types of trade contractors, in addition to traditional environmental contractors. A handful of those are listed below:

  1. An HVAC system is installed improperly which, over time, causes moisture and ultimately mold to spread throughout a residential building, causing bodily injury and property damage
  2. A painting contractor accidentally disposes paint thinner through a public drain causing polluted water to a local community
  3. Dirt being excavated from one area of a job site to another is contaminated with arsenic and lead. The chemicals are then spread to a larger area which is later found by a soils expert
  4. Construction equipment on a project site has hydraulic fuel lines cut by vandals, causing fuel to leak out and contaminate the soil
  5. A contractor punctures an underground storage tank during excavation, causing the product to spill into the soil and groundwater.
  6. A gas line ruptures during excavation causing a gas leak into a neighboring building that leads to an explosion

The common thread seen above describes how contractors are causing some type of “contamination” on a job site. And, contamination is the operative word in all pollution exclusions. With such a broad definition extending to so many types of construction, beginning your search now for CPL options is just simply good business.

And, with a multitude of insurance companies aggressively pricing CPL policies, securing competitive quotes to compliment your current insurance program can fill significant gaps at more reasonable costs than you think. 

Take time to consult with your broker and learn more about how pollution liability impacts your firm.

For more information, contact Sam Clayton at (619) 937-0167 or Daniel Frazee at (619) 937-0172.