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What is a

Contaminated Land Assessment

A holistic guide about contaminated land, the different phases of an assessment and details regarding legislation and remediation.

Contaminated land is a significant problem in Australia, not only as a financial risk for private entities, companies or government authorities when looking to use the land e.g. for re-development.  But additional contaminated land may present occupational safety and health risks for people working on the site, as unknown hazards can be encountered at any stage of site works.

Data from 2016 shows that around 160,000 sites in Australia have been identified and recorded as being contaminated (1). However, more recent estimates indicate that this number is closer to 200,000. 

To safeguard investment and workers, and as part of the risk management process, a contaminated land assessment conducted prior to any re-development or land-use-conversion is recommended.

Keep reading to learn more about this process. 

What Is Contaminated Land?

Contamination is typical on most land and not necessarily the result of human activity. Land contamination can be naturally occurring or arise from various activities or events, either intended, accidental (2).

Some examples include:

Contaminated sites vary in size and significance. Knowing the level of contamination before re-development commences can avoid unexpected or unanticipated remediation costs and expenses.

What Is a Contaminated Land Assessment?

A contaminated land assessment identifies if the land is suitable for re-development or what remediation is required to ensure the site is appropriate to redevelop. This includes re-development for:

A contaminated land assessment will also identify if the land is likely to require remediation of any contaminants.

There are several steps to a contaminated land audit (3).

These steps are classified as ‘Preliminary Site Assessments’  (Phase 1) or the more prescriptive ‘Detailed Site Assessments’ (Phase 2). Either of these may be required to ensure regulatory compliance for planning and development, and to ensure development approval or to establish suitable baseline site conditions.
Land title and other records, possibly with historical aerial photographs, can assist in understanding the historic use of the land and any likely contamination issues that may impact the site. Past impacts may affect the future use and plans for the site.
Specific sites may also be contaminated through the type of land use, either current or historic, on neighbouring properties. This may be covered by a ‘Phase 1’ assessment.
A ‘Phase 2’ survey may incorporate soil and / or groundwater sample analysis to determine what contaminants, if any, are present at the site. This assessment then provides guidance on remediation requirements. An experienced contaminated land consultant would be able to advise clients on the most cost-effective contaminated land remediation options.

Contaminated Land Remediation

Remediation can turn former contaminated sites to a more sustainable site, suitable for re-development. However, a remediation project will only be successful if the type, source and extend of the contamination is known. A contaminated land assessment (audit) delivers the information necessary to develop a remediation plan. The assessment can also provide the details to determine if on-site only management of contaminants is adequate for a site to be re-developed.

The Importance of a Contaminated Land Assessment

Contaminated land assessments are often declared to be a key component of a Due Diligence process for land purchase or disposal as they provide guidance to make informed decisions regarding re-development options, purchase price, remediation costs or contractual terms in relation to the property.
If the assessment indicates a contamination that requires ongoing management, the development and implementation of a site Environmental Management Plan or System (EMS) may be applicable. This plan or system could incorporate an on-going monitoring plan or progressive assessment of the site to ensure changes to risks are identified and quantified.
Thorough Contaminated Land risk management could be applicable in determining the affect of future human impacts and also to identify ecological risks. Therefore, a formalised Environmental Management System (EMS) (4) is the ideal tool for understanding and limiting the impact of planned and potential activities and for achieving any established environmental goals.
Whether buying undeveloped land or engaging in new activities on established or previously developed land, a site contamination assessment will assist in abating risks to:

Government Authorities & Legislation

If land contamination is suspected, in many jurisdictions, the Environmental Protection Authority or EPA of a state or territory is the key influencing body that can initiate investigations and audits of contaminated land sites.

A contaminated land assessment consultant, such as Health Safety Environment Australia (HSE Australia), can be appointed to oversee site contamination issues or plans.
Regardless, if the EPA suspects contamination at a site, it may launch an audit requirement (5). Local legislation, such as the Contaminated Land Management Act 1997 relevant for New South Wales (NSW), detail the full power of the EPA concerning contaminated land and their involvement in site management as far as contamination is concerned.

Contact HSE Australia for more details

Contaminated land isn’t just a serious problem for the polluter. It can have a drastic impact on future landowners and their projects, too. Conducting an assessment prior to purchase or re-development is strongly recommended.

Contact HSE Australia to speak with a contaminated land and hazardous material consultant. Our specialists can assist in the array of aspects to be accounted for to ensure remediation and management of contaminated sites adheres to EPA and other regulatory standards.

If you have any concerns regarding contaminated land, please get in touch.

HSE Australia’s team of Occupational Hygienists Specialists is available 24/7 and Australia-wide.

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