The hazardous waste disposal industry disclosed plans yesterday to establish a mutually owned insurance company to provide liability coverage that its members are unable to obtain in the commercial market.
An industry trade group and 12 waste-service firms drew up the plans for the insurance company over the past several months and are now seeking other companies to participate, officials said. The program is expected to begin operations by the spring, contingent upon 30 companies agreeing to join and to contribute at least $17 million in initial premiums and capital, the officials said.
If formed, the company would become the latest in a series of mutual insurance firms established as a result of the current liability insurance crisis, which has seen premiums rise dramatically and coverage dry up in many lines. Accounting firms, banks, drug and chemical companies, and many other businesses have set up such companies recently.
The insurance crisis has proved particularly acute for the growing range of companies that transport, treat and dispose of chemical wastes. Although an estimated 95 percent of the hazardous waste generated nationwide is actually handled on-site by waste generators themselves, the clean-up companies are being squeezed by the refusal of insurance companies to issue policies covering any pollution liability whatsoever.
"There is absolutely no insurance out there. Nobody can get it," Bruce J. Parker, general counsel of the National Solid Wastes Management Association, told reporters at a briefing yesterday.
Under the plan developed by the association, members would be able to buy up to $10 million worth of protection per environmental accident, subject to a $1 million deductible. For the coverage, each company would pay a premium based on how many claims it has filed in the past four years, with a minimum premium of $100,000 for $10 million of coverage.
This coverage would be far more expensive and less comprehensive than what companies were accustomed to until the insurance crunch hit in the past two years, some analysts said. However, with the recent squeeze, many companies, especially small firms, may well sign on to make sure they meet federal requirements that they have insurance before operating a treatment facility, the observers said.
But they added that some of the biggest operators could decide that they are better off simply setting aside their own reserves to pay for losses in lawsuits. Harold Gershowitz, senior vice president of Waste Management Inc., which runs one of the largest hazardous-waste disposal and treatment operations in the country, said his firm plans to continue self-insuring, rather than join the new group.
"Our assessment is that they can't do anything for us that we can't already do for ourselves," said Gershowitz. "It's a very positive development, though. The industry certainly needs it."