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Soil Contamination – What Lies Beneath?

By:  Craig McInnes

I suspect that various government departments might be having a competition to see who can come up with the most unwieldy name for a document.  An early front-runner for 2012 would have to be the Ministry for the Environment’s National Environmental Standard for Assessing and Managing Contaminants in Soil to Protect Human Health.  But all joking aside, we are starting to see this standard have an effect on our clients’ proposals, particularly in the rural area.

According to the Ministry there are over 20,000 contaminated sites around the country that are known to local councils, but there are many more that remain off their radar.  Soil contamination can occur from past activities such as the manufacture and use of pesticides, fertiliser and petroleum products, coal and gas extraction, timber treatment and livestock dipping.

The main concern that the Ministry has is that a change of land use would occur that might put people in direct contact with a contaminated site.  For example, a subdivision of rural land might inadvertently allow someone to build a residence on what was previously used for a sheep dip, only to find that their children want to enter the bath in a single file.

To avoid this sort of unfortunate scenario occurring, the Standard, and in turn the local councils, are requiring that a preliminary assessment be undertaken by a suitably qualified professional to determine whether or not it is likely that such an activity existed in the past that might have contaminated the underlying soil.  It is only in the event that it is deemed more than likely to have occurred that further, more scientific, investigations and remedial works are required.

If you think that this publication might have an effect on your proposal, then please do give us a call to discuss the options. You can also read more on the Ministry for the Environment website:

In the meantime, we are running our own little competition to see who can come up with the best acronym for this document (the rules state it must be easier to pronounce than your avereage Welsh place name).  Let us know if you have any bright ideas!

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