What is Contaminated Land?
Land contamination is usually the result of previous land usage(s) or may, in rare cases, be due to contaminants being present due to natural geological conditions. In certain circumstances land with a historical industrial usage has been known to pollute controlled waters, release potentially toxic or explosive gases, damage buildings and affect human health by the ingestion of or exposure to contaminated food / soil.
The words 'Contaminated Land' have a specific legal definition. Under Section 78A (2) of Part 2A Environmental Protection Act 1990 (EPA) 'Contaminated Land' is defined as:
"Land which appears to the Local Authority to be in such a condition, by reason of substances in, on, or under the land, that significant harm is being caused, or there is a significant possibility of such harm being caused; or significant pollution of controlled waters is being caused, or there is a significant possibility of such pollution being caused."
"Harm" means harm to the health of living organisms or other interference with the ecological systems of which they form part and, in the case of man, includes harm to his property.
Why Worry about Contaminated Land?
Contaminated land may present a health risk to potential users of the land and also impact upon water quality, ecological diversity etc. Exposure to contaminants is typically through inhalation of dust or gases, contact with soil, or through consumption of food grown on the land. Leachates (pollutants draining from the site in liquid form) can pollute groundwater and rivers or ponds. Some contaminants may be corrosive, and some can pose a risk of explosion or fire.
How Long does Contamination Last?
Once a contaminant reaches the soil, it may break down or be neutralised, be washed out by rain, evaporate or remain in the soil building up to high concentrations. When contaminants build up, it may not be permanent. However, soil can sometimes remain polluted indefinitely - there is land contamination in England traceable back to Roman times.
Is it safe to live on Contaminated Land?
In most cases the risks associated with living on sites that have been previously used by industry are low. More often than not, any effects are to the value of the property due to perceived risk rather than actual effects to the health of occupiers or to the environment. Development through the planning process also is likely to reduce the risk posed due to investigation and remediation that can be a condition of development. However, if you are concerned about potential problems you can ask for advice from the Contaminated Land Officer in the Pollution Control Team.