A site where hazardous substances are present at concentrations which may cause an immediate or long-term hazard to human health or the environment is considered to be contaminated.
Experience has shown that sites previously used as industrial, agricultural or horticultural land are more likely than others to contain areas of widespread and/or localised contamination. Land can become contaminated when it receives hazardous substances from leaks, spills, accidental or intentional disposal. Often the contamination was unintentional and may have occurred despite following recommended management practices. In the past, the use, handling and storage of hazardous chemicals were often of a lesser standard than required today.
Some contaminants break down very slowly, while some contaminants remain in the soil for many years after the previous land use has ceased. If we eat products grown in contaminated soil, such as root vegetables, the contaminats can enter our digestive system. Livestock and birds, such as chickens can also ingest contaminated soil, so that when we eat their meat or eggs, we may also take in any contaminants present.
The landowner is generally responsible and liable for cleaning up a contaminated site, even if contamination was caused by a previous owner. It is therefore in your interests to investigate the property before you buy it.
You should ensure the site is tested by a suitably qualified and experienced contaminated site investigator. Check in the Yellow Pages under Environmental Consultants and ask for evidence of experience in contaminated soils. The investigator will carry out a Detailed Site Investigation, which will help you decide if the site poses an unacceptable risk for the way you plan to use it.
You may want to seek legal advice on your future liability. Some buyers choose to write the clean-up into the Sale and Purchase Agreement.
Environment Canterbury is responsible for regulating discharges of contaminants into the environment in the Canterbury region. Removing or disturbing quantities of soil from contaminated land may require resource consents. If you need to excavate or remove a large amount of soil off your property where it is suspected the land is contaminated, you will need to contact your local city or distroct council to find out if you need a resource consent and how to obtain one.
The Ministry for the Environment has listed 53 potentially hazardous land uses on the Hazardous Activities and Industries List (HAIL). A factsheet about these different land uses is available on their website.
HAIL (Ministry for the Environment) »
(03) 353 9007
0800 324 636 (EC INFO)
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