A cleaner, greener clean-up - sustainable remediation
28 August 2007, News release from Newzeye
The remediation of contaminated land is increasingly seeking to follow principles of sustainability. Brownfield Briefing talks to Frank Evans, Technology Development Manager at National Grid Property Ltd.
Sustainable is a word that means many things to many people. What does it mean in the context of remediation?
If remediation is aligned with the government's aims for sustainable development, then it should relate to undertaking projects that deliver social progress, protect the environment, use natural resources prudently and maintain economic growth and employment - it means more than only looking at the environmental impacts.
Aren't 'economic' and 'sustainable' at the opposite ends of the spectrum? Is it possible to 'do the right thing' and still make money?
The UK is, arguably, a world leader when it comes to brownfield regeneration, a significant proportion of which is market-driven, so if brownfield re-use is considered to be a marker of sustainability then the evidence would suggest it is possible to do the right thing and make money. Our approach to remediation has been consistent with best practice for years, yet we have still made money from our portfolio.
Rising house prices no doubt play a big part in this but it is also underpinned by a high remediation cost base caused by landfill prices and overly conservative risk assessment. The factors that control the cost base are largely in the hands of our regulators and legislators (for example, waste definitions, SGVs, interpretation of the Water Framework Directive, landfill tax exemptions). How these matters resolve themselves will determine the future cost base for brownfield regeneration and possibly the sustainability agenda.
The 2007 Brownfield Briefing Remediation Awards include, for the first time, a specific award for 'Most Sustainable Remediation Project', sponsored by National Grid. Why is sustainability so high on the agenda for NG?
'Sustainability' is important to any environmentally responsible company. National Grid works within an ISO 14001 environmental management system. It understands key environmental aspects associated with business and looks to continually improve understand, measure and manage these aspects. In terms of our remediation programme, we would like to understand sustainability to help us to have an open debate about what the right thing to do is on each occasion, based on good science and robust data rather than perceptions about different technologies and landfill.
National Grid is responsible for land contamination issues on no less than 350 UK sites. What systems are in place to ensure those issues are managed sustainably?
At remediation design stage we follow the CLR11 process with risk-based designs and a remediation options appraisal in which we expect all the benefits and drawbacks of each viable technology approach to be considered.
A key step we have taken is to develop an in-house tool to help predict the environmental impacts of our projects at a design stage, looking at aspects such as materials re-use, emissions, and local impacts such as noise, dust and vehicle movements.
Currently the remediation programme delivers about 55-65% re-use of all materials excavated during the remediation project. This is only one measure of sustainability but it aligns well with current UK trends to minimise use of landfill.
What current project are you aware of that really exemplifies the principles of sustainable remediation?
One of the most sustainable concepts around is recognising that materials that are 'suitable for use' as part of a risk-based project should not be considered as 'waste'. The Environment Agency's efforts to resolve the definition of waste issue are very important for the remediation industry. Linked to this are soil treatment centres (STCs) and clusters - at which contaminated soils can be taken to site where a treatment technology is in operation and returned to the site of origin once treated. There are several projects in the UK (Glasgow, London, Sheffield) that are on the cusp of taking this all-important step. We are hopeful that we can work with the EA to deliver a working solution - but we need this sooner rather than later.
What's your assessment of how well the UK remediation industry (in general) is doing to implement sustainable remediation?
Without necessarily knowing it, I think we are at the forefront of making sustainable decisions. The UK remediation industry is unique in that so much of its work is related to brownfield regeneration. We also work within a regulated environment that supports risk-based and cost/benefit decision-making, which is equally important. So technology-use aside we are already making decisions that are cost effective and that bring social benefits.
On the technology front, confidence in treatment technologies is growing and there are an increasing number of competent companies working in the field. However, we need pragmatic regulations that facilitate materials reuse so that STCs and clusters can deliver their real potential.
In your view, which remediation technologies are most worthy of the description 'sustainable'?
It is unbalanced to look any one technology in isolation. Whether they are sustainable can only be judged in the context the project. A good conceptual model and risk assessment are the starting point. Beyond that it is striking the balance between social benefits, environmental impacts and the cost of project defining whether something is sustainable.
What is next step for sustainable remediation in the UK?
The workshop that CL:AIRE organised in the UK is a welcome step, as is the chance to understand ideas coming from the US forum on sustainability.
There are some benefits to developing some sort of UK framework that could be used to assess sustainability. However, we should be cautious on pressing ahead with development of a new tool without first understanding how the existing tools fit in (like cost/benefit analysis) and understanding how those organisations already looking the issue are measuring and assessing it.
A big challenge will also be to agree a framework for assessing sustainability that satisfies all the key stakeholders.
Frank Evans will be speaking at Brownfield Briefing's Contaminated Land and Brownfield Remediation Conference, 18-19 September 2007. For more details see http://www.newzeye.com/conferences_education/conferences.cfm
Or Tel: +44 (0)20 8969 1008, or email email@example.com
National Grid Property is sponsoring the 'Most sustainable remediation project' at the 2007 BB Remediation Awards 18 September 2007. See www.brownfieldawards.com