The overall approach when dealing with historic land contamination is one of risk management. In general terms, those dealing with land contamination are faced with two basic questions – does the contamination matter, and if so what needs to be done about it?
When assessing sites there are three essential elements to any risk:
A contaminant – a substance with the potential to cause harm.
A receptor – something that could be adversely affected by the contaminant (e.g. people, property or eco-system).
A pathway – a route or means by which a receptor can be exposed to, or affected by the contaminant.
Each element can exist independently but they create a risk only where they are linked together. This linked combination of contaminant-pathway-receptor is described as a ‘pollutant linkage’.
It is important to realise that the presence of contamination doesn’t mean there is a risk. Without a pollutant linkage there is no risk and even where there is a pollutant linkage, and therefore some measure of risk, those assessing the site still need to ascertain whether the level of risk is unacceptable.
Environmental Health encounters land contamination in a variety of circumstances. Most of our dealings with land contamination fall into the following categories.
Part 2A of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 was introduced to deal with the substantial legacy of land contaminated by past activities. The legislation provides a definition of 'contaminated land'. The council is required to inspect the borough to identify contaminated land. This involves considering the current use of land and determining whether contamination is causing significant risks to human health or the wider environment. Where contaminated land is found the council is required to secure its remediation.
Pollution Prevention and Control (PPC) is a regulatory regime for controlling pollution from certain industrial activities. The Environment Agency regulates what is considered to be the most polluting of three industrial categories with the council regulating the comparatively less polluting activities.
The Environment Agency also regulates waste management activities including the transport, treatment and disposal of wastes.
The Environmental Damage (Prevention and Remediation) Regulation 2009 implement the European Directive on Environmental Liability. Environmental damage has a specific meaning in the regulations. The regulations are enforced by the council, Environment Agency or Natural England, depending on the type of damage and the activity which caused it.
The possibility of land being contaminated is a material planning consideration which means the Local Planning Authority has to consider the potential implications when developing plans and also considering applications for planning permission. The Building Regulations also require measures to be taken to protect new buildings and future occupants from the effects of any contamination.