Things to know about contaminated land

Contaminated land is where substances could cause significant harm to people and property, where substances can pollute surface waters or groundwater and where substances could harm people as a result of radioactivity.

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Where would you find contaminated land?

Any land that has previously been used for landfill, a garage, a mine, a steel mill, a factory or a refinery. The cause of this contamination is usually oils and tar, asbestos, chemical substances, radioactive substances or heavy metals.

Some contaminated land is classed as ‘special sites’ which is land owned by the MOD, used for industrial activities or contaminated by nuclear waste. These special sites are regulated by The Environment Agency.

Are they a risk to your health?

Exposure to contaminants could be through inhalation of dust and gas, through contact with the soil or food grown in it. Pollutants can be in liquid form and enter watercourses or groundwater, and some may be corrosive and can pose the risk of fire or explosion.

Can we clean up the land?

It is possible to make contaminated land safe using land remediation services. These land remediation service companies are heavily regulated and remove the pollutant or contaminant, such as soil, groundwater, sediment or surface water, and make the ground clean for its new purpose.

To find out where you will find contaminated land, contact your local council. They keep a register recording legal action taken and hold data on historic land use, closed landfill sites, incidents of pollution and land that has been remediated.

If you are looking to buy some land and are unsure whether it has ever been contaminated, you could pay to have a Contaminated Land Report, which is designed to assess whether a site has potential land quality issues. Such a report is helpful when applying for planning permission.

You may ask is it safe to live on or near contaminated land? Well, there is only a risk if a pollutant linkage exists. Generally, the risks are low and the only perceived effect would be to the value of your property and not to your health.

There is legislation in place for those who cause or knowingly permit land to be contaminated. This could be allowing people to dump contaminated waste on your land or could relate to businesses that operate a process which may cause contamination.