Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Pollutant Definition:

A solid, liquid, gaseous, or thermal irritant or contaminant.

Related Terms: Pollution

In Great West Development Marine Corp. v. Canadian Surety Company, Justice Holmes of the British Columbia Supreme Court wrote that, in a "general sense", the term pollutant meant:

".... harmful, or having in any significant quantity components or ingredients that might be thought inherently harmful, dangerous or of likely deleterious effect."

A frequent definition given for pollutant is that found in the insurance policy before Justice Haynes of the United States Court of Appeals in Nautilus Insurance Company v Country Oaks Apartments as follows:

"The policy defines the term pollutant as any solid, liquid, gaseous or thermal irritant or contaminant, including smoke, vapor, soot, fumes, acids, alkalis, chemicals and waste. Waste includes material to be recycled, reconditioned or reclaimed."

In one 1994 case, Regional Bank of Colorado v St. Paul Fire & Marine Insurance, Justice Earl O'Connor of the United States Court of Appeals had before him a policy which defined a pollutant as:

"... any solid, liquid, gaseous, or thermal irritant or contaminant, including: smoke, vapors (and) fumes (and) limited to irritants and contaminants commonly thought of as pollution and not as applying to every possible irritant or contaminant imaginable....

"[T]he terms irritant and contaminant cannot be read in isolation, but must be construed as substances generally recognized as polluting the environment. They must occur in a setting such that they would be recognized as a toxic or particularly harmful substance in industry or by governmental regulators....

"[T]here is no substance or chemical in existence that would not irritate or damage some person or property.... Without some limiting principle, the pollution exclusion clause would extend far beyond its intended scope, and lead to some absurd results. To take but two simple examples, reading the clause broadly would bar coverage for bodily injuries suffered by one who slips and falls on the spilled contents of a bottle of Drano, and for bodily injury caused by an allergic reaction to chlorine in a public pool. Although Drano and chlorine are both irritants or contaminants that cause, under certain conditions, bodily injury or property damage, one would not ordinarily characterize these events as pollution."

Conversely, in Cold Creek v. State Farm, Justice Marchiano of the Court of Appeal of California noted that California law may be different; suggesting that rocks, under some circumstances, dropped into a creek could be a pollutant:

"... a substance need not be toxic or particularly harmful to be considered a pollutant."


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