It is a site where hazardous substances occur at a concentration sufficiently above background levels to cause an immediate or long-term hazard to human health or the environment.
Experience has shown that sites previously used as industrial, agricultural or horticultural land are more likely than others to contain areas of contamination. Land can become contaminated when hazardous substances are leaked, spilt or disposed of. Often the contamination was unintentional and 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 in the soil very slowly, while others don’t break down at all, so it may be present on a site for a very long time. Some contaminants pass through the food chain and concentrate in the tissues of fish, birds, livestock or humans.
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 an experienced contaminated site investigator. Your regional or unitary council may be able to advise you of consultants experienced in this work. Otherwise look in the Yellow Pages under Environmental Consultants. This will help you decide if the site poses an unacceptable risk for the way you plan to use it. Your regional or unitary council can also provide advice on how a contaminated site might best be cleaned up or managed.
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.
Regional and unitary councils are responsible for regulating discharges of contaminants into the environment. Discharges from contaminated land may require resource consents. Councils can also provide advice and information for the public and other government agencies about the safe management of contaminated land.
This list shows the main land uses or industries which typically use hazardous substances that could cause contamination.
Whether or not a specific site is contaminated will depend on the past and present management of the hazardous substances. Please be aware that even if the property has been used for an activity or industry that does not appear on the list, it may still be contaminated.
For images and more information, download the PDF version:
Buying a property? (pdf 789 kB)
Advice for vendors:
Selling a property (pdf 783 kB)
Advice for lawyers:
Conveyancing a property (pdf 788 kB)
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