Construction and Contaminated Land

Banks of the River Lea in East London. Photograph: ODA/EPAIf you are planning to undertake construction you need to be aware that failing to deal adequately with contamination could cause harm to human health, property and the wider environment. It could also limit or preclude new development.

Contamination is more likely to arise in former industrial areas but cannot be ruled out in other locations including in the countryside (e.g. by inappropriate spreading of materials such as sludges, or as a result of contamination being moved from its original source). In addition, some areas may be affected by the natural or background occurrence of potentially hazardous substances, such as radon, methane or elevated concentrations of metallic elements.

What can land be contaminated by? There are various substances that are considered 'contaminants', these include diesel, heavy metals, such as arsenic, cadmium and lead or oils and tars and chemical substances and preparations, like solvents. Additionally gases, asbestos and radioactive substances.

Only a specific investigation can establish whether there is contamination at a particular site, but the possibility should always be considered particularly when the development proposed involves a sensitive use such as housing with gardens, schools or nurseries. There are various sources of information that can be drawn on to help indicate whether land could be contaminated.

There is Contaminated Land Statutory Guidance Download available to help guide you through what needs to be done. Additionally you can view the Environmental Protection Act 1990 for more information.