Contaminated land

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Contaminated land contains substances in or under the land that are actually or potentially hazardous to health or the environment. Areas with a long history of industrial production will have many sites which may be affected by their former uses such as mining, industry, chemical and oil spills and waste disposal. These sites are known as Brownfield Land.

Contamination can also occur naturally as a result of the geology of the area, or through agricultural use.


United Kingdom[edit]

A requirement was placed on all local authorities in England, Wales and Scotland to investigate potentially contaminated sites and, where necessary, ensure they are remediated by Part IIA of the Environmental Protection Act 1990,[1] which was inserted by the Environment Act 1995.

The regime in Part IIA did not apply to radioactive contamination, but section 78YC permitted Ministers to make regulations to apply Part IIA to such contamination. Such Regulations have been made.[2]

The Waste and Contaminated Land (Northern Ireland) Order 2007 made similar provision for Northern Ireland[3]

Legal definition[edit]

Section 78A(2) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990[1] defines "Contaminated Land" as:

“Contaminated land” is any land which appears to the local authority in whose area it is situated to be in such a condition, by reason of substances in, on or under the land, that—
(a) significant harm is being caused or there is a significant possibility of such harm being caused; or
(b) significant pollution of controlled waters is being caused, or there is a significant possibility of such pollution being caused;[1]

The Contaminated Land Report (CLR) series of documents have been produced by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Environment Agency, to provide regulators with "relevant, appropriate, authoritative and scientifically based information and advice on the assessment of risk from contamination in soils".

The Environment Agency has issued a number of Soil Guideline Values (SGVs) which, whilst non-binding, may be used as guidance in the environmental risk assessment[4] of land and in setting remediation targets. They should only be applied to human health assessments.

The Process[edit]

1. Assessing, 2. Investigating, 3. Remediating, 4. Verifying & Closure

Planning regulations in the UK often prescribe the assessment of land for potential sources of contamination prior to any development taking place.

Should during the assessment in phase 1 the scientist come to the conclusion that there is probable cause to suspect a site could be contaminated, he or she will automatically recommend a land/water investigation the so-called phase 2.

During phase 2, the land investigation phase, the scientist will conduct a number of specialised tests to gain a deeper insight into a site and to determine what further action if any will need to be taken.

This includes for example the planning of the sampling method, marking and recording of sampling points, excavation of sampling pits as well as the taking of samples and analysing them in a specialised (MCERTS / UKAS (UK only) certified laboratory.

Should the laboratory analysis confirm that a site is contaminated, the scientist will recommend phase 3 the remediation phase. In phase 3 the scientist will based on the type of pollutants found on a site and a sites constraints determine the best method of remediating a site. The scientist will also supervise hands on the remediation.

After remediation has taken place, phase 4 the verification and closure phase will automatically be triggered during which the scientist will once more assess and verify if the remediation has been completed or will need to be continued. Once the remediation has successfully completed, the scientist will close the remediation and give the all clear. Author: William of Shropshire B.Sc (Hons), AMIEnvSci, MENEP (2016)


  1. ^ a b c "Part IIA Environmental Protection Act 1990". Environmental Protection Act 1990. Retrieved 2011-11-22. 
  2. ^ [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] and subsequent instruments.
  3. ^ Statutory Instrument 2007 No. 2778 [6].
  4. ^