Driving forward land remediation

These are challenging times for contaminated land. The treatment and reuse of brownfield sites is becoming increasingly driven by legislation. Churngold Remediation explains what might happen.

The remediation market is going through interesting times at present. Many see this sector as having enormous potential for growth, as the pressure for suitable sites for housing continues to increase. As is often the case, the environmental issues surrounding the development of brownfield sites are driven, to a great extent, by legislation.

Professor Jim Lynch, head of the School of Biomedical and Life Sciences at the University of Surrey, and shortly to become chief executive of the Forest Research agency, believes that as technology for remediation is developed, so regulators will become tougher with land owners: “Once regulators see that decontamination of existing sites is possible, thanks to evolving technologies, they are going to demand more effective clean up programmes from developers.”

In this way, the treatment and reuse of contaminated land is bound to be driven, at least to some extent by legislation. The rate at which this occurs, according to Professor Lynch, will depend upon how quickly remediation technologies can be improved and hence, how rapidly the legislation governing clean up is tightened.

Rapid growth

There is no doubt that the remediation industry is going to undergo a rapid and sustained growth over the next few years, feels Professor Lynch: “In many respects, stricter legislation is better for everyone, since it encourages the development of more effective remediation strategies and moves the focus away from the dig and dump approach, which is still prevalent.”

Dig and dump, whereby brownfield developers simply remove contaminated soil from a site and transfer it to landfill, is currently an inexpensive option, widely favoured by many contractors. However, the times are changing, primarily due to the new Landfill Directive, which will make it more expensive to use landfill sites due to the reclassification of the waste streams and the licensing of sites able to accept different types of waste.

Craig Sillars, managing director of Bristol-based company Churngold Remediation, is convinced that the landfill directive will bring about change in his industry. Changes that will have a fundamental effect on the way that developers approach contaminated land issues in the future.

While contaminated land remains exempt from landfill tax, says Sillars, the new directive will, and indeed already has in some areas, resulted in increased gate prices being imposed by many landfill operators that is bound to encourage developers to take a closer look at in situ remediation technologies, purely on economic grounds.

“A very interesting development is currently taking place with landfill sites,” Sillars explains. “With the requirement for sites to determine whether they will be classed under the new directive as either hazardous or non-hazardous, those that will be licensed for hazardous materials will need to significantly increase their landfill disposal rates as a result of having to meet the requirements of the new directive.

“Indeed some are already increasing the cost per tonne of disposal in order to maintain void space for hazardous waste in the future.” This increase in disposal cost at the gate is bound to encourage developers to look more closely at remediation.

“By late 2004, there will be less than 30 sites able to accept hazardous waste. They are all of a finite size, so the law of supply and demand dictates that disposal prices will rise,” continues Sillars.

Market developments

Naturally, companies such as Churngold Remediation are watching market developments closely. With more and more technologies and treatments becoming available for in-situ and ex-situ remediation, the ability of suppliers to offer a suite of remediation solutions is becoming more important. However, if contractors, developers and consultants are to get the best from their remediation supplier, he feels that it is important that they form a partnership at an early stage of site clean up.

Choosing the correct remediation strategy is becoming more and more crucial, especially with regard to the economics of clean up. As technologies become more sophisticated the ability to treat specific problems is improving.

Whether the contamination is in the form of hydrocarbons, heavy metals or pesticides, a number of bio, physical, chemical, electrochemical and thermal techniques are now being offered by suppliers such as Churngold Remediation that can cope with site specific contamination.

Craig Sillars also feels that developers and consultants in the UK are often slow to realise the potential financial benefits of adopting an appropriate remediation strategy. “Generally, the UK is very conservative when it comes to remediation. Licensing of mobile plants, problems with planning and a general reluctance by the regulators to embrace remediation technology slows progress. This, coupled with a level of conservatism among developers and more particularly their stakeholders, can hold back the acceptance of remediation technologies as the real way forward with contaminated land,” he says.

However reluctant developers may be to undertake remediation in the future using these alternative remedial techniques, it is certain that financial and legislative drivers will make everyone involved in the clean up of contaminated land more aware of non dig and dump options.

In overall terms, developers of brownfield sites are more likely to adopt remediation techniques for contaminated land if the risk is seen to be manageable. The big difference between dig and dump here in the UK and, for example, in the USA, is that once the material enters the landfill, it is no longer the developer’s problem assuming that the contractor has followed all duty of care requirements.

Because of this, remediation companies will have to demonstrate that modern in-situ technologies are able to minimise, to an acceptable level, any ongoing risk to the developer, while providing financial benefits over landfill. Once these criteria are met, the remediation of brownfield sites using alternative technologies will gain acceptance rapidly.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie