LEGAL BRIEFING - Will recycled rail ties tie me up in court?


Dear John, I want to plant a garden in the spring. My mother told me that I should have raised beds and that I should use old railroad ties to make them. I have heard that the ties should not be used because they are treated with something that could contaminate the soil and the vegetables from my garden. If I use the ties, can I be sued if the ties do cause a problem?


Rail-Reaper Rod

If you decide to use materials that eventually contaminate the soil and food, you may be liable for the damage and cleanup. Contamination means polluted by hazardous chemicals so that the property is unfit for human habitation or use due to immediate or long-term hazards. You have to have an authorized contractor perform the cleanup unless the local health officer allows the work to be completed by someone else.

There could also be liability if you know, or should know, about contamination on your property and you do not notify a new owner about the contamination.

When you plant your garden, the business you get the building materials from should be able to tell you whether the products you are using are suitable for your intended use. Be sure to ask them before you buy.



John Hartzell is a practicing Walla Walla attorney. No attorney-client relationship is established via this column, which is for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Any information given is to illustrate basic legal concepts and does not state how any court would decide any matter. Have a question? Ask John at


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