Clean up of toxic land in Scotland lacking resources

The slow pace of land decontamination in Scotland is leaving vast areas polluted with toxic residues from coalmining and industry, a new survey reveals.

As much as 7,600 ha across Scotland are suspected of being contaminated, but only 41 ha were cleaned up between 2004-5, the 2005 Vacant and Derelict Land Survey found.

The total area of contaminated land in Scotland was found to have increased by 450 ha over the last five years – although this may partly be due to better monitoring by local authorities.

Since 2002, local authorities have been responsible for ensuring the rehabilitation of contaminated land by enforcing the “polluter pays” principle whenever the original polluter can be found.

Scottish local authorities and environmental groups blame the slow progress on a lack of funding and resources.

“Increased funding to carry out the reduction and removal of contamination is the only way that local authorities will be able to tackle this blight effectively,” said a spokesman for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla).

The National Society for Clean Air and Environmental Protection, an environmental charity representing pollution control professionals, called for increased regeneration efforts in Scotland.

“We remain concerned about the amount of financial, but also training and technical resources available. The vast majority of contaminated sites should be addressed with specific inward investment and regeneration,” the Society’s Carolyn Vannon told edie.

“As well as funding from the Scottish Executive, inward investment is needed to attract people into developing the contaminated land. If the contamination is limited to the site and no owner can be identified, the land will just be left alone. The problem is that it is easier to develop Greenfield sites,” she said.

171 sites across Scotland are contaminated with coal residues, arsenic, asbestos, chromium, cadmium and other toxic chemicals, covering an area of 1,100 ha, the new survey found. The coal industry in Ayrshire, Lanarkshire and Fife has proved the biggest contamination source.

A further 1,700 sites in Scotland are suspected of being contaminated, and are presently listed as “unknown,” giving a total contaminated area that could reach 7,600 ha.

by Goska Romanowicz

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