Contaminated land

Contaminated land is land which, because of substances in, on or under it, presents a significant possibility of significant harm to human health or other specified receptors or pollution of controlled waters is being, or is likely to be, caused. Contamination, and even the possibility of contamination, is also a barrier to the fulfilment of broader regeneration policies which favour bringing pre-developed (‘Brownfield’) sites back into beneficial use in preference to the development of ‘Greenfield’ sites (though these can be contaminated too).

An estimated 300,000 hectares of land in Great Britain are thought to have been affected to some degree by contamination left by industrial activity. The contamination may be caused by leaks and spillages from pipes or tanks, by the disposal of waste materials on the site, by the demolition of buildings containing toxic elements such as asbestos or by any number of other processes or activities that occurred while the plant was operating or while it was being closed down. Land may also be considered ‘contaminated’ because it contains naturally occurring substances such as metals or gases at levels that are harmful.

The legal framework

Great Britain has a comprehensive legal framework for protecting public health from the effects of historically contaminated land. Administered by local authorities, the most important piece of legislation is Part 2A of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 as amended in 2006 to take account of radioactively contaminated land. That is augmented in particular by Statutory Guidance last revised in England and Wales in April 2012. The CIEH believes the latest Guidance , along with reductions in funding, has reduced the degree of health protection provided by the regime, under which local authorities have a duty to inspect their areas to detect any land which ought to be ‘determined’ as ‘contaminated’ and to require its remediation by appropriate means.

That may be by removal of the pollutant-receptor, by containing it or breaking the pollutant linkage in some other way, the cost of which is borne, ideally, by the original polluter but where he cannot be found, by the current owner or, in default, by the local authority.

In addition, permits issued to many inherently polluting businesses under Part 1 of the 1990 Act require their sites to be returned to a satisfactory state (having regard to their original condition) on cessation of their activity and accumulations or deposits of matter which are likely to cause injury to health or are a nuisance may in some circumstances be a 'statutory nuisance' within the meaning of Part 3.

The majority of contamination is nevertheless found in the course of voluntary development of sites by their owners and cleaned-up as a condition of planning consent to a standard ‘suitable for use’, in general (taking a long-term view) higher than that which can be required under Part 2A though here again, the government is encouraging standards to be relaxed. In addition, the Building Regulations require reasonable precautions to be taken to avoid danger to health and safety caused by contaminants in ground to be covered by buildings and associated ground.

▼ The role of EHPs working with contaminated land 

In order to minimise development pressures on greenfield sites, the preference nowadays is to build on land with the least environmental or amenity value - in general, land that has been developed previously. For the protection of future users, we need to know if that land may be contaminated and, if so, to clean it up. This is where environmental health practitioners come in.

EHPs are trained in the highly technical processes of the detection and assessment of contamination.  Following detailed examination including analysis of representative soil samples, if they believe the land is contaminated to an extent that there may be an unacceptable risk to health they will work with owners, developers, architects and engineers to find ways of remediating and reclaiming it so that it can be safely used again.

Most contaminated sites come to EHPs’ attention by way of the planning process whereby ‘clean-up’ conditions can be applied to development consents.If necessary though, EHPs can use enforcement powers to ensure that land is returned to a state fit for use.

The CIEH has played a part in developing several key pieces of guidance, some listed under Publications.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Environment Agency have published a number of procedural and technical guidance notes, both on the assessment of contaminated land and on ways of cleaning it up and restoring it. Public Health England, Public Health Wales and the Department of Communities and Local Goverment also provide information.

Further information

▼ Training and Events 

Contaminated Land training events are presented under the 'EMAQ+' programme operated by Ricardo-AEA.

For more details of individual events and booking forms please visit 

▼ Resources 

Please follow the links below for some key information on land contamination from other sources.


Building more homes on brownfield land - Joint response to DCLG consultation - March 2015 

CIEH Position Statement on normal levels of contaminants in soil - October 2015  


Normal levels of contaminants in soil
CIEH Position Statement, October 2014

Category 4 Screening Levels (`C4SLs`)
A Position Statement, July 2014

CIEH Position Statement: Category 4 Screening Levels (`C4SLs`). - July 2014  

Nine things you should know about contaminated land - EHN 09 July 2014  

CIEH Press Release: Standards of protection for housing on contaminated land at risk -10 July 2014 


Reviewing HHRA reports invoking bioavailability estimates
CIEH Professional Practice Note, June 2009 


Applying the definition of "Contaminated Land" under Pt2A
Guidance by Defra, July 2008

Outcome of the “Way Forward” exercise on soil guideline values
Statement by Defra, July 2008

New model planning conditions for development on land affected by contamination
New conditions from DCLG, replacing those in PPS23 and Circ 11/95, June 2008


Contaminated land advice note (CLAN) 5/06
The extension of Part 2A to include radioactivity, July 2006

Contaminated land advice note (CLAN) 4/06
Defra update on SGVs, April 2006


Contaminated land advice note (CLAN) 2/05
Defra guidance on the use of SGVs in determinations, September 2005

Indicators for Land Contamination
Report by the Environment Agency, August 2005

Guidance on Requirements for Land Contamination Reports
Environment Agency Guidance for developers, consultants and local authorities, July 2005


Model Procedures (CRL11)
Environment Agency Guidance on the management of land contamination, September 2004

▼ Resources archive 

Soil guideline value taskforce
Letter for stakeholders from Neil Thornton, Defra, Feb 2006
Contaminated land policy
Joint letter from the CIEH and EP-UK to Jonathan Shaw MP, October 2007
Bioaccessibility Testing
Report of an international workshop hosted by the EA, March 2005

Standing Conference Plenary Meetings Presentations

June 2014 

  Presentation  Speaker 
1 Changes to the regulatory landscape   Howard Price
2 Recent advances in HHRA   Prof Paul Nathanail
3 Asbestos in soil & made ground   Dr Richard Ogden
4 Advances in sustainable development of contaminated sites   Prof Paul Bardos
5 Healthy land: the association between brownfield land and morbidity   Dr Steve Robertson
6 Contaminated land: an Agency perspective   Andrew Barker
7 A CLO`s viewpoint: what C4SLs will do for us   Rob Ivens
8 Deeds, not words  Howard Price

May 2013 

  Presentation  Speaker 
1 Remediation: some recent developments   Prof Paul Nathanail
2 Defra`s `Category 4 Screening Values`: how and why?   Caroline McCaffrey
3 New guidance on SPCW and other groundwater issues   Dave Brooks
4 Guide to managing and understanding risks from asbestos   Dr Richard Ogden
5 Review of BSi`s development of guidance on ground gas   Mike Smith
6 Verification and testing of barriers for hazardous ground gases   Hugh Mallett
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