The biggest local concern we have are buried fuel tanks. At this writing, they are not illegal in New York. That can change and no doubt will some day. A person is a fool to use these tanks any longer and I routinely tell my clients to get them out of the ground right now when it costs little and no one is looking over your shoulders. Because, if there is a problem, it could cost you BIG TIME and create unimaginable hassles for you. People listen well to that sermon and normally react positively to it. I have not had to preach this in years and have not seen evidence of an underground tanks at one of my places in some years now. In other states, you cannot take them out and dispose of them; everything has to be done according to Hoyle and the little men in the white suits come scurrying around with their hazmat outfits on and meters running at X hundred of dollars per hour. But not here, not yet. Rural New York is laid back and is nice to its citizens.
You can still bury tires on your property, but nobody else can. Go figure that one. I heard of a piece of acreage sold in the winter. Just before the closing, the buyer was walking it - and spied a number of tires. He asked the agent and the agent asked the owner, who told him that there was a pile of about 50 there that he'd forgotten about, no biggie. Come Spring, the snow melted and uncovered not 50, but hundreds and hundreds of tires. Thousands. It turns out the previous owner sold tires for a living and instead of paying the normal disposal fees (which he probably charged his customers for), he dumped them on his own property, then sold it. The buyer then made a big mistake and got EnCon involved. The result? HE was responsible now (after all he was the owner now and who is to say if it wasn't him that dumped the tires there?) and it cost him thousands and thousands of dollars to do the cleanup, so much that he no longer had the money to build his house.
I lost both a sale and a listing once because of environmental reasons, but not like you might think. These folks were going to buy a farm from me and had just placed their own property in my hands to sell. They came back for a second look and discovered, oh my, old shingles on the land. The lady went ballistic. I could not believe how she changed all at once. Jeckyl and Hyde. Literally, she was friendly one minute and attacking me fiercely the next. I could not convince her that I did not know about it before. She just knew that I was trying to cheat her and was hiding things. It was useless to attempt to reason with her, to say that, hey, this was a farm and things like this exist on almost every farm, one place or another, but are usually better hidden (which is quite true). Nor would it have done any good to explain that shingles are not very hazardous. They abruptly withdrew from the deal and had their lawyer send me a nastygram also rescinding their listing. Heck, I would have been happy to give them their listing back; they didn't need a lawyer for that. If they are like that, it would have been no use trying to work for them.
Later on, another party on the farm found the real farm dump and caused the owner more problems. What was in there to object to? Old farm machinery, household items, beds, dead appliances, lots of rotted lumber and miscellaneous items that had been placed there over the decades. Unfortunately, the owner had added a couple items of his own and he ended up hiring someone to get a backhoe and drag stuff out of the ravine it was in, then place it in a dumpster. Some could not be reached, not the really old stuff which had migrated over the years down to the very bottom.
Farm dumps were considered normal. What the heck, it has not been that many years that municipal dumping has been available to us. Where do you think the crap went before this time? Into the ravines and the edges of woods, places that you could get to easily, but were not seen from the roads. Yes, they are unsightly. And then, once municipal dumps were started, habits had been formed and it was simply cheaper and quicker to keep using the farm dump, especially for stuff that was not considered obnoxious or dangerous. Nearly every farm has one, if you look close enough. These days, few of them are active. They are not illegal, though that could change. What could there be in one to worry about? Notice I use the work "could", not "is". There could be leftover herbicide (no one uses insecticide in our area, it's too cold to have insect problems of a magnitude that justifies that kind of expense). But crop spray is also expensive, very much so, and people take good care of it. You don't throw expensive stuff away. How about petroleum products? The same reasoning still applies, though it is less applicable. How about used motor oil? That is possible. I used to use mine to oil my machinery instead of using new oil. Some folks have used it to start fires. I also used it for paint for the cover for my cellar doors - it sunk in the wood well and preserved it, though it didn't stay black looking for long. Real paint would have worked better, but I already had the oil.
Speaking of which, paint is another product that worries the right officials, if not homeowners. Leaking paint cans are a no-no, and also another waste of money. How about oil leaking from discarded farm machinery? That is a real possibility, though I must admit that the places that oil is stored inside farm machinery tends to be things like crankcases, gear boxes and such-like repositories, all made with heavy cast iron shells.
The way I see it, the problem with farm dumps is mostly that they are just unsightly and, fortunately, most farm buyers agree with me. Sellers have begun to as well and nearly all the dumps I see have long been abandoned and discontinued.
What else do I look for? Waterways: I don't like them near buildings, especially barns with animals and barnyards. I don't even like streams running through pastures, though it has not been many years since that was considered an advantage by nearly everyone. Farm ponds that cows have access to just gross me out. The worse thing - it's bad for the cows. Mastitis-breeding grounds. They'll stand in the water if permitted (you'll find that cows have a very poor environmental ethic) and when the urge strikes them, they let it go. No big deal if you're a cow, happens 10 times a day. But the pathogens swim around them to re-enter via the udder - a bad idea and poor husbandry. But it was an accepted practice only a few decades ago.
We had a case of a farm who bordered the city dump. The two were rear to rear. The dump was used by everyone including tanneries who, even though they knew better, didn't let that interfere with the bottom line - it was cheaper to dump certain noxious chemicals than to properly dispose of them And the folks that manned the dump knew better than to say anything. After all, the tanneries employed of all their friends and relatives. Of course this kind of stuff had to stop, and in due time, it did. But many years later, the chemicals found their way to certain springs, one of which was on the farm. People were more environmentally aware by this time. Fortunately, in our case, a large hill (with fairly non-porous rock beneath it) was between this spring and the nearest pasture or water source for the farm, so no one really had to worry about their cattle or their water. But the State did, bless their souls. They dug test wells all over the area, monitored them for some months, then drilled new ones, and repeated the process. The whole thing took something on the order of five (5) years, during which the buyer and seller patiently waited to be able to close. The bank would not fund the purchase until the environmental concerns were addressed fully - and the State never sees a reason to hurry.
You don't want to mess around with this stuff or get the State or the Feds involved when they do not need to be. They have protocols to follow that you don't. Another farm I sold had had something happen - I was never clear just what it was because the owner wasn't clear either. He had bought it that way from the owner - the Farm Service Agency, who had in turn taken it into their inventory (ie - foreclosed upon it). Anyhow, since the Federal Government was in the chain of title, they took it upon themselves (Big Daddy, with the Big Pockets) to do all this environmental testing, which took years to complete. The way the owner explained it to me is that it never really fully finished; the testing sort of petered out instead. Mostly, it seemed to involve moving around piles of dirt, then waiting a bit before moving them again. It was hard to explain to the prospective new owner when neither of us understood a bit of it. And even the FSA officials didn't remember what started it all. Officials come and go. But finally, they were reluctant to throw any more tax dollars at it and gave the place a green light to close for the second new owner since the FSA (this all took place over a 10 year span).
OK, so today I had a young feller from Brooklyn out. City folks are more apt to be naturally suspicious and distrusting, or so I have found. He was no exception and asked lots of questions that real people would not ask. Don't get me wrong - he's a decent guy. But he worries about city things. So we had this big talk about buried tanks and after I go through this whole rigamarole, I learn that it is home heating fuel tanks that he was worried about! Heck, these are all inside the basement where they don't freeze and cause problems. No one buries them in this area. They used to bury tractor fuel tanks once in a while, but he wasn't worried about that. So, he thought he might want to do a Phase 1 test. He may think twice about that when he finds out how much it will cost him and how long it will take. He still wants to close in a month. Ha! He'll learn.