Land full

Clive Boyle, director of QDS Environmental and Adrian Needham, technical director of EDGE Consultants UK, explain the implications for developers of the Landfill Regulations

Contrary to the wishful thinking of some, the date for implementation of the EU Landfill Directive in UK remains 16 July. The ban on co-disposal and the requirement for pre-treatment of hazardous waste prior to disposal will have major implications for holders or developers of contaminated land, together with the consultants and remediation contractors working for them. The 200 or so co-disposal sites will reduce to only about ten sites that can accept hazardous contaminated soils, unevenly spread across England with none in Scotland or Wales.

The directive will drive a welcome shift away from landfilling of contaminated soils – but without careful planing and management of the implementation process there is a risk of a hiatus in brownfield regeneration as landfill costs for hazardous waste rise dramatically. Perhaps belatedly, landowners, developers and government started becoming exercised about this issue towards the end of 2003 and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister set up a stakeholder working group which reported to ministers on the issue. The Hazardous Waste Forum is now working with industry to manage the process.

Research by the forum has highlighted considerable uncertainties both in estimated arisings of hazardous materials from contaminated land sites and the permitted annual intake of the few sites able to accept this waste. There is the prospect that the annual volume of arisings will fill the permitted capacity more quickly than new hazardous waste landfill space becomes available, resulting in continuing future capacity difficulties.

It is expected that separate cells in non-hazardous waste landfills will also become available for some stable, non-reactive wastes. However, it is unlikely that there will be much potential for hazardous contaminated soils to be treated to the required condition for disposal in these cells.

Regulatory changes

The implications of the regulatory changes will weigh most heavily on contaminated soils classified as hazardous, although costs for disposing of non-hazardous soils are also expected to rise, albeit less dramatically. Non-hazardous soils will also have to be pre-treated prior to disposal but this requirement is not expected until 2006 or 2007.

Comprehensive, focused site investigations and correct classification of contaminated soils as hazardous or non-hazardous (in accordance with the new Environment Agency WM2 procedures) to avoid over-consignment of contaminated soils as hazardous waste, with the resulting cost penalties, have acquired a greater importance.

Quantitative site-specific risk assessments, based on information from detailed investigations, should often enable a reduction of contaminated soil quantities designated as requiring treatment or removal. Subsequent savings achieved in reduced remediation costs should more than compensate increased investigation and risk assessment expenditure at the early stage of projects.

Potential impacts

Developers of brownfield sites should be aware that the process of remediation will change considerably as the days of landfill disposal as the default low-cost option for remediation of contaminated soils are numbered, and should expect significant cost and programme delivery implications.

Most practitioners predict that the future will see landfill disposal as just one option alongside a range of onsite treatment technologies. These are interesting times for those owning, assessing or developing contaminated land.

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