Land Contamination

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Assessment of land contamination may be required for a variety of reasons, including:

  • new build, or a change of use, that requires planning permission;
  • baseline assessment of ground conditions prior to occupation by a new tenant;
  • in support of an Environmental Permit application and baseline assessment of soil and water in accordance with the Industrial Emissions Directive;
  • enable surrender of an Environmental Permit when a facility ceases operation;
  • following a pollution incident;
  • to address the historical legacy of land contamination via Part IIA of the Environmental Protection Act 1990;
  • due diligence associated with acquisition of land or an existing facility.

Redevelopment

New development is almost always subject to planning conditions requiring the developer to ensure land is suitable for the proposed build.  The scope of investigation required to satisfy planning conditions relating to land contamination will depend on current and former use of the land.  In addition to assisting with the discharge of such conditions, site investigation can, and usually does, consider other ground-related issues (e.g. risks associated with shallow mineworkings, suitability of the ground for foundations etc).

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was published in 2012 and replaces all other planning guidance.  The NPPF includes land contamination as a material planning consideration, and places responsibility to adequately assess the condition of the land on the Developer.

Lithos have a good understanding of the planning regime, and also have excellent working relations with contaminated land officers in both Local Authorities and the Environment Agency.

Environmental Baseline Assessment

What are baseline reports?

In accordance with the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED), which has been incorporated into the UK Environmental Permitting Regulations (EPR), all A1 & A2 installations are required to determine soil and groundwater conditions beneath their site.  A1 permits are typically regulated by the Environment Agency, A2 installations were formerly regulated by your Local Authority under a Part B authorisation.

Ideally ground conditions are determined immediately prior to construction of the facility and commencement of site operations, hence the term baseline survey.  However, for existing facilities, baseline can be considered to be ground conditions at the date of issue of the Permit. 

A baseline survey initially considers the findings of desk-based research (including review of historical plans, geological maps and environmental data), followed by a site visit to conduct an environmental audit (essentially a review of your facilities – site operations, raw materials used & how/where these are stored etc).  We need to identify the key chemicals (potentially hazardous to the local environment) that have been used on site, both prior to and following issue of the Permit, this allows relevant hazardous substances to be identified.  These should be relevant to the permit, but not historic activities.

This work allows us to formulate what we call a Conceptual Site Model (CSM), which is then used to design the subsequent intrusive ground investigation, with recovery of soil and groundwater samples for laboratory analysis.  Soil samples are recovered from machine excavated trial pits or boreholes.  Groundwater samples are recovered from monitoring wells (essentially plastic pipes) installed within boreholes.  We ensure boreholes are installed in the right place, first time and to a high standard, for continued reliance throughout the operational phase of the Permit.

Once baseline conditions have been established, further groundwater samples are recovered from the monitoring wells every 5 years.  Further soil sampling is required every 10 years.  This periodic monitoring is required as a Permit condition and the information is used when the Permit is surrendered to ensure the land is returned to the same state as it was before the Permit was issued.

However, in some circumstances, the CSM will allow us to conclude that a less intensive intrusive investigation is required, or occasionally, not necessary at all.  For example, where the site is underlain by a significant thickness of clay and therefore groundwater is absent. 

In addition to being a requirement of the Permit, a baseline survey also helps both landowners and permit holder (if land is leasehold) as/when a facility closes or relocates.  The operator/leaseholder is responsible for demonstrating that their occupation of the site has not caused contamination of the underlying soils/groundwater.  If contamination has been caused, the leaseholder will need to commission the necessary “clean-up” works (remediation) to return ground to baseline conditions.

The leaseholder would submit a copy of the baseline survey and any subsequent reports associated with periodic monitoring to the landowner (and the Local Authority) to demonstrate that their occupation has not caused contamination.  The landowner could use these reports to provide a baseline for subsequent tenants.  

Whilst the baseline survey only considers those key chemicals used on site since issue of the Permit, the landowner will be liable (under Part IIA of the Environment Act) for any pollution caused by any other chemicals formerly used on site.  Landowners should be aware that they are also liable for “clean-up” of any significant contamination if the leaseholder becomes insolvent. 

When do I need to undertake a baseline survey?

All Permit submissions made since 2013 have had to supply a baseline survey with the Permit application.  The holders of older Permits must provide a baseline survey when the Permit is updated, often this corresponds with the issue of the industry specific Best Available Techniques (BAT) reference documents (BREFs).

Following issue of the BREF, a facility usually has up to 4 years to comply with the BREF and Permits are varied accordingly.  If companies do not already have a baseline survey report, the Environment Agency’s Local Authority Unit has stated that one must be included when the Permit is updated.

What needs to be included?

The baseline survey has two main aims:

  • To assess the degree of contamination in the soil and groundwater before the Permit was issued.  This is considered the baseline sate and represents the condition the site must be returned to when the Permit is surendered.
  • Identification of relevant hazardous substances, chemicals that have potential hazardous properties and that are used in the Permitted activity.  These should be site-specific, not generic.

Will it stop activity?

No, Lithos will work with you to ensure the design of any ground investigation work compliments your ongoing site activities.  Ground investigations should not impact on site infrastructure, paying particular attention to secondary and tertiary containment, such as impermeable hardstanding, bunds, kerbs or high-risk areas such as bulk chemical storage.  Lithos will ensure exploratory techniques adopted reflect each site setting, rather than one approach fits all.

What is the difference between a baseline report and site condition report?

A baseline report is a term used under the Industrial Emissions Directive; a site condition report is required for all facilities regulated under the Environmental Permitting Regulations.  This could include activities not included under the IED.  However, these reports are similar. 

A baseline report is designed to establish ground conditions at the start of the activity / issue of the permit.  This is supported by periodic monitoring.   A site condition report provides a summary of ground conditions at specific points in time, site condition reports are updated periodically either following sampling or review of site operations.

Both the baseline report, with periodic monitoring and site condition reports are designed to consider the condition of the soil and groundwater during the life of the permitted activity and can be used to support final surrender.  

What industries are covered by the Industrial Emissions Directive?

IED considers Installations within the following sectors, within each sector there are chemical thresholds to decide if the operation is sufficient size to class as an Installation.

  • Energy industries, such as power-generation by combusion, and coke ovens.
  • The production and processing of both ferrous and non-ferrous metals.
  • Cement, minerals and lime industries
  • Chemicals industry.
  • Waste management, including incineration.
  • Timber treatment, paper and pulp.
  • Intensive and industrial scale food production and processing.
  • The surface treatment of substances.

Lithos experience and casestudies

Lithos have extensive experience developing site-specific baseline surveys for a range of industry sectors.  We work closely with our laboratories ensuring site-specific soil & groundwater analytical suites are developed to target each site’s relevant hazardous substance(s). You can find some case studies on our website:

How do I get a baseline survey?

Liz Hart is Lithos’ main point of contact for baseline surveys and has experience working closely with the Environment Agency and Local Authorities across Yorkshire.   Find out more about Lithos and Liz’ experience or get in touch to discuss your site baseline survey -  call Liz on 01937 545330.

Managing Pollution

Lithos have successfully supported clients who have been served with an environmental notice following a pollution incident.  Pollution incidents can happen for many reasons and are sometimes beyond the control of site owners or operators: such as a fuel tank and bund that is damaged after a visiting lorry reverses into it. Nevertheless, the resulting pollution is generally the responsibility of the permit holder or landowner.

Rapid response, swift resolution and confirmation of potential environmental harm and /or validation of remediation is required.  Lithos has extensive experience of dealing with each of these scenarios, with engineers who have previously worked for both the Environment Agency and Local Authority. Lithos appreciate the importance of understanding the requirements of, and working with, both Regulators and Clients.

Historic Contamination

The contaminated land regime in Part IIA was introduced specifically to address the historical legacy of land contamination, and applies where there is unacceptable risk, assessed on the basis of the current use and the relevant circumstances of the land.  It is not directed to assessing risks in relation to a future use of the land that would require a specific grant of planning permission; this is primarily a task for the planning system, which aims to control development and land use in the future.

Due Diligence

Introduction of the Contaminated Land Regime in 2000 reinforced the concept of ‘purchasing with knowledge’. Liability associated with land contamination can be passed to the new land owner if it is reasonable to assume that they should have been aware of this prior to purchase. An obvious example would be any party purchasing a former gas works where there was no documentation to indicate that remediation had been undertaken.

Lithos can also provide due diligence advice to prospective purchasers, funders and land owners prior to leasing land to a third party.  These reports consider ground-related issues, including potential contamination, and can be tailored to aid acquisition, lease agreements and contracts.

Risk Assessments

Likely potential contaminants associated with the former uses of a site are identified during the desk study.   Soil and groundwater samples are collected during the ground investigation and scheduled for appropriate laboratory analysis. The number of samples taken will be reflective of the complexity of ground conditions actually encountered.

Lithos adopt a tiered approach to risk assessment, consistent with UK guidance and best practice. The initial step of such a risk assessment is the comparison of site data with appropriate guideline (or Tier 1) values.  It should be noted that exceedance of Tier 1 values does not necessarily mean that remediation will be required. Should any of the Tier 1 criteria be exceeded, three potential courses of action are available:

  • Undertake statistical analysis of the laboratory results in order to determine whether contaminant concentrations within soil\fill actually present a risk.
  • Carry out a more detailed quantitative risk assessment.
  • Based on a qualitative risk assessment, advocate an appropriate level of remediation to 'break' the pollutant linkage - for example the removal of the contaminated materials, or the provision of a clean cover.

Asbestos in Soils

Asbestos fibres are widespread in near-surface soils (albeit often in trace amounts), especially in urban areas, as a consequence of asbestos usage in the UK from the late 1800s, and especially between the 1940s and 1970s.  It is therefore not unusual to detect asbestos fibres in soil samples recovered from brownfield sites, or indeed residential gardens in many UK towns & cities. 

However, asbestos fibres in soils typically pose a negligible risk to health, because of (a) the low concentrations present and (b) the ability of soil to “bind” the fibres in, especially when damp.  Nonetheless, some release may occur in dry conditions if the soil is disturbed by excavation or wind.

Lithos' Desk Study will determine whether or not previous use of the site is likely to have resulted in significant asbestos contamination in the soil. 

The majority of soil samples recovered during a Lithos ground investigation are scheduled for asbestos ID (effectively a screening test).  For the vast majority of sites this testing is to confirm the absence of a significant risk, rather than because we expect (due to previous use of the land), or have seen (during the excavation of trial pits etc), significant amounts of asbestos. 

As experienced geoenvironmental engineers, we are able to recognise larger fragments of asbestos-containing material (ACM) in soil; e.g. asbestos-cement sheeting, or asbestos-insulation board.  Any potential ACM is sampled and scheduled for asbestos ID laboratory analysis.

Information and guidance is provided to all Lithos employees via annual Asbestos Awareness Training.