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Last edited 29 Jun 2018
Contaminated land for construction
Approved Document C, Site preparation and resistance to contaminants and moisture, defines a ‘contaminant’ as: ‘Any substance which is or may become harmful to persons or buildings, including substances which are corrosive, explosive, flammable, radioactive or toxic’.
Assessment of the risk of harm is based on the likelihood, frequency and seriousness of adverse consequences, which might include:
- Threats to human health.
- Damage to flora and fauna.
- Contamination of ground water.
- Damage to foundations and structures.
- Migration of contaminants to adjacent land.
- Toxic or carcinogenic chemicals such as cyanide, arsenic, mercury and benzene.
- Toxic or phytotoxic metals such as lead, chromium, nickel, copper, cadmium and zinc.
- Organic contaminants such as oils, solvents and phenols.
- Corrosive substances such as acids and sulphates.
- Flammable, toxic or asphyxiating gases such as methane, hydrogen sulphide, and carbon dioxide.
- Combustible material.
- Radioactive substances.
Some likely sources of contamination are:
- Animal and animal products processing works.
- Asbestos works.
- Cable burning and bonfire sites.
- Ceramics, cement and asphalt manufacturing works.
- Chemical works.
- Dockyards and dockland.
- Engineering works.
- Garden soils, especially in the capital can contain cadmium.
- Gasworks can result in the presence of cyanide and phenol.
- Industries making or using wood preservatives.
- Landfill and other waste disposal sites.
- Metal treatment and finishing.
- Mining and extraction industries can result in arsenic contamination.
- Munitions production and testing sites.
- Oil storage and distribution sites.
- Paint and dyestuff industries.
- Paper and printing works.
- Petrol stations and refineries.
- Power stations.
- Railway land, especially large sidings and depots.
- Road vehicle fuelling, service and repair: garages and filling stations
- Scrap yards.
- Sewage farms and works can result in zinc and copper contamination .
- Textile works and dye works.
- Maps: Ordinance Survey (current and historical), geological survey maps and town plans.
- Statutory authority and utilities data, such as local authorities, river purification boards, the Health and Safety Executive and the National River Agency.
- Trade information from directories and trade associations.
- Photographic records, particularly aerial shots.
- Technical data from public literature.
- Knowledge gained from adjacent development.
- Anecdotal information from libraries, local residents and local newspapers.
- Meteorological, mining and hydro-geological records.
If a desktop study raises concerns, or if the history of a site is not fully known, then trial pits and borehole investigations should be undertaken, concentrating on the areas of greatest suspicion. Tests may be based on soil samples taken at a variety of depths and locations in order to determine the nature and level of contamination as well as its extent. Initially, this is likely to be at least nine samples per hectare, but more testing may be necessary depending on what is found.
There are three main clean-up techniques:
- Excavation and removal of contaminated soil followed by either disposal or off-site treatment.
- Limiting the spread of the contamination.
- Using a treatment to destroy, remove or detoxify containments.
|Containment||For example, 'pathway interdiction' using high density polythene as a membrane both horizontally and vertically as a capping, encapsulating the contaminants and separating them from new construction. This option is chosen if other techniques result in unrealistic costs or create potential hazards.|
Contamination can be:
This can be in-situ or ex-situ.
The main types of soil treatment are:
- Biological treatment.
- Thermal treatment / desorption (using heat to increase the volatility of contaminants so they can be removed).
- Chemical immobilisation / stabilisation / solidification.
- Washing (injecting clean water and extracting contaminated water).
- Soil vapour extraction using vacuum extraction (this is particularly effective with volatile chemicals, such as petrol and chlorinated solvents).
Biological treatment, also known as bioremediation, is the most common technique. It utilises microorganisms and plants and is particularly suitable for fuel-based contaminants. Microbes 'eat' the chemicals found in oil spills, digesting them to produce water and carbon dioxide. For the bacteria to grow, the right temperature, nutrients and amount of oxygen must be provided. This can be achieved by pumping in air and other substances such as molasses.
In some countries, the cold weather conditions means that the soil has to be excavated and cleaned above ground with the help of heaters, and an oxygen supply. Bioremediation allows cleaning on site, generally it does not require much labour or equipment and so is usually cheaper than other methods.
Although some solutions are cheaper than others, the cost of site investigation and soil treatment is still significant. Developers suggest that it should be up to the government to cover the cost of cleaning up contaminated land, otherwise, the need to pass on costs to purchasers means that it will not always be possible to provide affordable housing on such sites.
NB: Government grants for cleaning up contaminated land ended in 2017.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Approved Document C.
- Brownfield land.
- Building on fill.
- Concrete in aggressive ground (SD 1).
- Cover systems for land regeneration - thickness of cover systems for contaminated land (BR465).
- Definition of waste: Code of practice.
- Environmental engineering.
- Ground conditions.
- Ground improvement techniques.
- Ground investigation.
- Hazardous substances.
- Hydraulically treated soils in residential construction (BR 513).
- Landfill tax.
- Managing risks in existing buildings: An overview of UK risk-based legislation for commercial and industrial premises (FB 86).
- Methane and other gasses from the ground.
- Pre construction information.
- Radon: Guidance on protective measures for new buildings BR 211.
- Site appraisal.
- Site investigation.
- Soil survey.
- Solid and liquid contaminants risk assessments.
- The risk of asbestos on brownfield sites.
- Types of soil.
 External references
- The Water Resources Act.
- The Environmental Protection Act
- ICRCL Committee on land reclamation.
- BSI Draft for Development DD 175 for identification of potentially contaminated land and its investigation.
- Institution of Environmental Health Officers: Guidance on development of contaminated land.
- Scottish Enterprise Handbook on development of contaminated land.
- Department of the Environment Waste Management Paper No 27.Landfill Gas: A Technical Memorandum Providing Guidance on the Monitoring and Control of Landfill Gas.
- Waste (England and Wales) Regulations.
- Environment Agency: Control of Pollution (oil storage, England).
- EU Soil Framework Directive.
- European Commission: Soil.
- The Scottish Governments: Planning Advice Note PAN 33, The development of contaminated land.
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