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Clean Up Brownfield Sites

Significant amounts of land within towns and cities are contaminated because of previous uses. The technology and expertise exist to convert most of these sites from a liability into an asset, fit for new buildings or for open space.  The cleanup is performed, in part, to accommodate the future use of the site (i.e., a parking lot has different cleanup standards than a school).  In general, three options are evaluated: leave contamination in place and monitor, treat the contamination in place and monitor the cleanup, or completely remove the contamination.  Especially on larger sites, a combination of these techniques is generally employed.

In general, the entity that causes the pollution has to pay for the cleanup. Often, however, sites are abandoned and it is difficult or impossible to track down past owners or users, or the contamination is so old that the source of it is unknown.  In these cases, there should be new funding sources and programs to assist new owners working to resolve environmental issues and redevelop.

There are other barriers that stand in the way of a widespread clean up, including public fears about living on decontaminated land and a tendency for developers to regard such sites as high risk. Legal liabilities should be tackled from two perspectives:

bulletSimplification and consolidation of the regulatory framework.
bulletStandardisation of the risk management approaches adopted by funders, land owners and developers.

Landowners should be able to work to a consistent set of standards. Regulators should be able to give assurances to landowners who have followed an agreed strategy to remedy a contaminated site that neither they nor a future developer are likely to face further action.

Minimum basis for identifying, managing and communicating risks throughout the assessment, treatment and after-care of contaminated sites should be established. Further consistency could be secured by introducing a standard format for site information, set out as a land condition statement. Government could also introduce a 'kitemark', certifying the quality of the management methods adopted by site owners, developers and their representative organisations. This would give the insurance industry greater confidence in providing cover for the risks at individual sites.

The government should launch a national campaign to clean up contaminated sites and prevent further land contamination, using a mix of education, research and prevention to ensure that contaminated land is back in beneficial use.

bulletEstablish a national framework for identifying, managing and communicating the risks that arise throughout the assessment, treatment and after-care of contaminated and previously contaminated sites.
bulletEstablish an environment agency 'one stop shop' service for regulatory and licensing requirements, moving quickly to a situation where a single regeneration licence is available, covering all regulatory requirements for cleaning up a site.
bulletPilot standardised land condition statements, to provide more certainty and consistency in the management and sale of contaminated and previously contaminated land.
bulletLaunch a national campaign to 'clean up our land' with a target to bring all contaminated land back into beneficial use by 2030.

Evaluating the Risk: Risk Assessment

All risk assessments must consider existing and reasonably likely future human exposure and significant adverse effects to ecological receptors in the locality of the facility.  Risk assessment issues could be:

bulletExisting and reasonably likely future human exposures and significant adverse effects to ecological receptors;
bulletEstimates of plausible upper-bound exposures that neither grossly underestimate nor grossly overestimate risks;
bulletThe range of probabilities of risks actually occurring, the range of populations likely to be exposed, current and reasonably likely future land uses, and quantitative and qualitative descriptions of uncertainties;
bulletCriteria for the selection and application of fate and transport models
bulletHigh-end and central-tendency exposure cases and assumptions;
bulletIndividual risk estimates and population risk estimates
bulletApproaches for addressing cumulative risks posed by multiple contaminants or multiple pathways