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Issues related to spills/contamination when purchasing a property

The information provided below is intended to help individuals and businesses looking to purchase property to get an overview of the DNR programs and/or regulations that may apply to the environmental condition of the property. It is important to be aware of past uses of a property, whether there has been any spills or contamination, and what type of cleanup might be required.

Site lists

Finding contaminated and/or clean sites

What do I need to know before purchasing property?

Prior to property changing hands, all parties involved should conduct proper due diligence in order to understand the environmental condition. The first step is to check the Bureau of Remediation and Redevelopment's tracking system, also known as the BRRTS database or the RR sites map to see if there is any record of contamination on or near the property you intend to purchase.

How do I use BRRTS on the Web and the RR Sites Map?

The BRRTS online database and RR Sites Map web-based mapping system together create an inter-linked system called the Wisconsin Remediation and Redevelopment Database (WRRD). Both tools can help you learn about properties affected by environmental contamination.

To use BRRTS, go to Learn more about BOTW which will provide details about the system and how to use it. If you still have questions, there are additional resources on the right side of the page under the "BOTW resources" box including a link for help and a glossary. Once you locate a site in the database, you can find site-specific information under the “Documents” heading including site closure letters, maps of the property and data on contamination. Click on the project manager’s name on the "Activity Details" page for contact information for the DNR staff assigned to the site.

If you would like to locate information about contaminated sites on a map, use the RR Sites Map. Once a property is located on the map, you can link to BRRTS on the Web for additional details. The WRRD - Remediation and Redevelopment (RR) Sites Map page contains information about using this system.

How do I locate available properties in Wisconsin?

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) has tools available to help you find an ideal location for a business within Wisconsin. Locate In Wisconsin is an online database of available commercial and industrial properties. Searches can be customized to meet specific criteria to find the property that best fits your needs.

Site assessment

What is an environmental site assessment?

Conducting an Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) is not a legal requirement but is often conducted prior to commercial or industrial property transactions in order to evaluate the risk for contamination. A Phase I Environmental Assessment involves research to determine how the property has been used in the past and if the uses may have caused contamination. During Phase II, samples are taken on the property if the Phase I assessment uncovered cause for concern. For more details on ESAs, review Basic Elements of Phase 1 and 2 ESAs (SB-007). An environmental consultant will need to be hired to conduct these assessments. A Consultants List (SB-004) and Tips on Hiring Environmental Consultants (SB-005) offer additional information.

If contamination is found, the responsible party must immediately report the findings to the DNR. The DNR may require a more thorough site investigation to determine the nature, degree, extent and source of the contamination and to determine what actions may be necessary to remediate the site. There is more information on Brownfields Program ESA.


Do I have to disclose information on contamination when selling a property?

Property owners who are selling property in Wisconsin are required to disclose certain conditions about the property. Disclosure requirements vary based on the type of property for sale. For sellers of residential or vacant properties, standard real estate forms will outline disclosure requirements. For commercial transactions, pre-purchase investigations and broker disclosure duties should identify any environmental issues on the property. The fact sheet, Environmental Contamination and Your Real Estate (RR-973) provides more information on state disclosure laws.

If you discover contamination or are concerned about liability for contamination on your property, review the information on the Contamination Overview page.

If you have a spill, be sure to review the information on the Spills page.


Ensuring the property is clean of contamination

To learn more about what to do in the event of a spill, including petroleum product or ag spills, review the information on the Spills page.

To learn more about topics such as what is involved in cleaning up contamination, including for dry cleaning locations or how to hire the right consultant, review the information on the Contamination Overview page.

Are there any continuing obligations required for this site?

When the cleanup of a property is complete, some contamination may still remain. Therefore, landowners may have legal requirements for continuing obligations in order to manage the residual contamination. These obligations continue to exist even when the property changes hands. Examples of possible requirements include properly managing contaminated soil if excavated, obtaining approval before construction of a water supply well, keeping a cover of soil or pavement over the contaminated area or maintaining a vapor mitigation system.

You can find continuing requirements information for a site by using BRRTS on the Web. Once you locate the site you are interested in, the "Documents" heading will provide links to site-specific information including a site closure letter, which will provide information on any continuing requirements.

To learn more about continuing obligations, visit the Residual contamination page or view the Continuing Obligations for Environmental Protection (RR-819) fact sheet.

Will a contaminated property affect my health?

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services can provide information on potential health impacts from contamination. See the Chemical Hazard Fact Sheets for details.

Financial or other assistance

Is there financial or other assistance for facilities that have to sell or shut down?

Review potential liability and financial assistance

If you own an industrial or commercial facility that will be closing or has recently shut down, the DNR's Wisconsin Plant Recovery Initiative may be able to help you identify key environmental issues and permits that need to be addressed prior to shutting down. Staff can help the facility owner understand any environmental obligations and identify financial, liability and technical resources of which they may be able to take advantage. The company will have the option to meet with DNR staff who can answer questions and provide information. As a result, environmental issues can be proactively addressed, liability assurance letters or exemptions can be provided and potential financial tools can be discussed, such as Wisconsin Assessment Monies (WAM) which provides site assessment services from a DNR assigned environmental consultant free of charge.

The Contamination Overview page lists additional funding sources.

Redeveloping an idle industrial site

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation has a program to help communities to redevelop idle industrial sites. If you are interested in a former industrial site, check with the local municipality to see whether the site has been proposed for a redevelopment grant. For more information you can review Idle Sites Redevelopment Program for more information.

A state program for companies that will have layoffs

If you have a business with more than 50 employees, the Department of Workforce Development will work with you on certain requirements for notification. Review Business Closing.

Additional resources