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The legal consequences of emitting hazardous air pollutants

On Behalf of | Jan 24, 2024 | Environmental Offenses

All living things need clean air to breathe, whether it’s plants, animals, or people. However, our air is easily polluted by chemicals that can cause health problems or even death. These chemicals are often the byproduct of industrial processes when manufacturers flout environmental laws by carelessly releasing dangerous substances into the air.

It’s a federal crime to release hazardous air pollutants that can harm or kill people. Severe penalties await those convicted of this offense.

What are hazardous air pollutants?

According to federal law, an air pollutant is any agent or combination of agents emitted into ambient air. These agents can be physical, chemical, biological or radioactive in nature. The U.S. Code has a long list of air pollutants known for causing health problems. These include:

  • Asbestos
  • Benzene
  • Chlorine
  • Chloroform
  • Formaldehyde
  • Hydrochloric acid
  • Naphthalene

The law also recognizes certain compounds as potential air pollutants. These include compounds of toxic materials like arsenic, cyanide, lead and mercury.

Penalties for releasing hazardous air pollutants

If a person, corporation, agency or department releases into the air any hazardous air pollutant and negligently places another person at risk of death, they commit a criminal offense. It’s also an offense if the pollutant causes serious bodily injury. The offense is punishable by up to a year of prison and a fine. If the individual commits a subsequent offense, they face double the fines and prison time.

However, if the individual releases hazardous air pollutants and is fully aware that they’re placing another person at risk of death or serious bodily injury, it’s a greater offense by law. On conviction, the individual faces up to 15 years of imprisonment. If the offender is an organization, it must pay a $1,000,000 fine; this fine applies to each instance of the violation. Subsequent offenses will also result in double the fines and prison time.

Releasing toxic air pollutants is a serious crime. Hazardous pollutants may not be as immediately dangerous as deadly weapons, but they’re just as deadly. Those who face charges should consider consulting a legal professional. An attorney experienced in environmental law can help organizations navigate the complexity of their cases.