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Contaminated Land - FAQs

What is contaminated land?
Land can be affected by contamination from certain substances in the environment. These may cause harm to people, animals, buildings, ecological systems, or cause the pollution of water. However the presence of contamination does not necessarily mean there is a problem. In many cases land that is affected by contamination may be suitable for it's current use.

However some sites may be affected by contamination to the extent that they are statutory “Contaminated Land” as defined by the Environmental Protection Act 1990, Part 2a.

How does land become contaminated?
Land may become contaminated due to its previous use, for example industrial processes or waste disposal. These uses leave behind pollution in the ground that may or may not disappear over time.

How dangerous is contaminated land?
Land that has been previously developed may not necessarily represent a risk. Many previously contaminated sites have been successfully remediated and turned into new developments.

The hazards associated with land will depend on the chemicals or substances present and how people are exposed to them. In some cases there can be an unacceptable risk from the land. Exposure to hazardous compounds can occur in several ways, for example ingestion, inhalation or skin contact.

If you have concerns about the health affects of contamination we recommend you speak to your GP or another appropriate health professional.

How can contamination be dealt with?
The processes involved in the cleaning-up and remediation of sites affected by land contamination depend on the contamination found. Typical solutions are to remove the contaminated soil and treat it on or off the site, or to create a barrier between the contamination and those affected.

What is the council doing about land contamination?
The City Council has a duty to inspect its area to identify statutory Contaminated Land. In order to undertake this task the council has a Contaminated Land Inspection Strategy

The aim of the strategy is to identify sites that may be contaminated land and to investigate these sites in order of the scale of the potential risk. Where contaminated land is identified action will be undertaken to clean up the land.

For more information on sites where statutory action has been undertaken please refer to the Public Register of Contaminated Land

The Contaminated Land Team also act as a consultee for the planning department where proposals may be affected by land contamination.

Who is responsible for cleaning up land contamination?
For land that is redeveloped through the planning process the developer is responsible for ensuring the site is suitable for its proposed use.

In many cases sites that are affected by contamination are cleaned up voluntarily by the land owner.

For sites that are statutory contaminated land identifying who is responsible for the cost of cleaning up the land is a complex process and the Council has to have regard to guidance issued by the Government (DEFRA Circular 01/2006). Where possible it should be the responsibility of the polluter, or those that may otherwise have been negligent in some way, to bear the cost. However in some cases it the current owner of the land may be liable. In deciding who should pay the Council will try to be as fair as possible and take into account the individual circumstances of individuals or organisations.

Why is land contamination affecting my house sale/purchase and what can I do?
It is common for conveyancing solicitors to carry out a search to ascertain whether a property is affected by land contamination. These are often supplied by commercial search companies who search their own databases and supply a risk-based decision on a property.

As a result of these searches the property may be found to be at minimal risk from land contamination or have the potential to be affected. This does not guarantee that contamination is or is not present, something which only a detail site investigation can confirm.

The contaminated land team offer a homebuyers search report which details the information the team holds for areas of land and whether we are likely to take any further action on a site. It will also detail whether a site is Contaminated Land under the legal definition. For information please see our Environmental Enquiry service page

For newer developments it may be worth contacting the Planning Department (0121 303 1115) or the NHBC or similar organisation. They may have information on what steps were taken to make the site suitable for its current use.

It is possible to get indemnity insurance in relation to land contamination from insurance companies, which is something you may want to look into.

Can I undertake my own soil sampling to assist in my house sale/ purchase?
You may wish to carry out testing yourself to determine whether the land is affected by contamination. However, you should note that sampling and testing may be required for soil, groundwater and ground gas and that the investigation and interpretation should be undertaken by an appropriately qualified contaminated land consultant, something that can be expensive and time consuming. It should also be noted that the decision on subsequent action will usually rest with the property owner.

Although the Contaminated Land Team does not offer a soil sampling service to the public a service is available through the City Council's Urban Design Service and enquiries should be e-mailed to: urbandesign@birmingham.gov.uk

Decisions on which sites to investigate for land contamination are based on our Contaminated Land Inspection Strategy where sites thought to be most at risk are addressed first.

I’m a developer, how can I check whether land is affected by contaminated?

The department has prepared Guidance for Developers of Contaminated Land to assist in commissioning and carrying out site investigations as well guidance on the verification of topsoil capping layers, which may be of use.

Does Radon affect my property?
Information on radon and the requirements for precautions can be sought from http://www.ukradon.org/

Does flooding affect my property?
Information on flooding can be sought from the Environment Agency.

Where can I find more information on contaminated land?
The following organisations have information on contaminated land, which you may find helpful:
(Please note that we do not take responsibility for the content of external sites)
Environment Agency
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Health Protection Agency
Environmental Protection UK

How do I contact the team?
Contaminated Land Team
Environmental Protection Unit
Birmingham City Council
581 Tyburn Road
B24 9RX

Telephone: (0121) 303 9956(we can only deal with requests relating to contaminated land on this telephone number. If you need to contact us about any other Environmental Health or Pest Control issue please call 0121 303 6007)
Fax: (0121) 303 9901
e-mail: contaminatedland@birmingham.gov.uk