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Progress in management of contaminated sites

Indicator Specification Created 16 Mar 2005 Published 16 Mar 2005 Last modified 04 Sep 2015, 06:59 PM
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Indicator codes: CSI 015 , LSI 003


Justification for indicator selection

Emissions of dangerous substances from local sources can have impacts on the quality of soil and water, particularly groundwater. Management of contaminated sites aims at assessing the adverse effects caused  and taking measures to satisfy environmental standards according to current legal requirements.

No legal standards for soil quality have been set at the EU level but targets have been set by some EEA member countries. In general legislation aims at preventing new contamination and setting targets for the remediation of sites where environmental standards have already been exceeded.

The indicator tracks progress in the management of contaminated sites and the restriction of land use and use of ground/surface water, and in the provision of public and private money for remediation.

A number of activities causing soil pollution can be clearly identified across Europe. These relate, in particular, to losses during industrial activities and to waste disposal from municipal and industrial sources. However the range of polluting activities varies considerably from country to country. The variation may be the result of differing classification schemes or due to incomplete reporting.

The implementation of existing legislative and regulatory frameworks (Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Directive, Landfill Directive, Water Framework Directive) should result in less new contamination of soil. However efforts are still needed to deal with historical contamination.

Scientific references

Indicator definition

The term 'contaminated site' refers to a well-delimited area where the presence of soil contamination has been confirmed. The severity of the impacts to ecosystems and human health can be such that remediation is needed, specifically in relation to the current or planned use of the site. The remediation or clean-up of contaminated sites can result in a full elimination or in a reduction of these impacts.

The term "potentially contaminated site" includes any site where soil contamination is suspected but not verified and detailed investigations need to be carried out to verify whether relevant impacts exist.

Management of contaminated sites is designed to ameliorate any adverse effects where impairment of the environment is suspected or has been proved, and to minimize any potential threats (to human health, water bodies, soil, habitats, foodstuffs, biodiversity etc.). Management starts with a basic desk study or historical investigation, which may lead to more detailed investigations, remediation or land redevelopment.

The indicator shows progress in five main steps:
1) preliminary study; 2) preliminary investigation; 3) main site investigation; 4) implementation of risk reduction measures.

The indicator also shows the costs to society of the clean-up, the main activities responsible for soil contamination and the achievements managing the contaminated sites.


  • Number of sites managed/to be managed at different management steps.
  • Percentage of sites where risk reduction measures are completed and where need for remediation measures is estimated related to the estimated total number of sites to be identified by surveys
  • Expenditures are provided in million euro per capita per year and million euro per GDP.
  • Contribution of economic activities to soil contamination is calculated in terms of percentage of sites where the activity is present over the total number of investigated sites.
  • Percentage of sites per risk reduction measure undertaken by each country.

Policy context and targets

Context description

Main policy objective: to achieve a quality of the environment where the levels of man-made contaminants do not give rise to significant impacts or risks to human health.


Legal requirements for the protection of water quality exist at national as well as at EU level whereas for soil no legal standards have been implemented at EU level so far. They only exist in some of the EU countries. In general legislation aims at preventing new contamination and at the same time is setting targets for the re-establishment of already exceeded environmental standards by means of remediation activities.

In the future, implementation of the legislative and regulatory frameworks in place (Landfill Directive, Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Directive, Water Framework Directive) should result in fewer inputs of contaminants into soil that might give rise to severe contamination and in a better control of contamination caused by natural or other events.As a consequence, most of the efforts will be focused on historical contamination.


No European targets have yet been established. National targets exist in most EEA countries. This information was provided through the EIONET priority data flow 2003.

Country Year Policy or technical target
Austria 2030-2040 Essential part of the contaminated sites problem should be managed .
Belgium (Flanders)




Remediation of the most urgent historical contamination. New contamination to be remediated immediately.

Remediation of urgent historical contamination.

Remediation of other historical contamination causing risk.

Bulgaria 2003-2009 Plan for implementation of Directive 1999/31/EC on Landfill of waste.
Czech Republic 2010 Eliminate the majority of old ecological damage.
France 2005 Establish information system on polluted soil (BASIAS) to provide a complete scope of the sites where soil pollution could be suspected.
Hungary 2050 Handling of all sites. Government Decision No. 2205/1996 (VIII.24.) adopted National Environmental Remediation Programme (OKKP).
Lithuania 2009 Waste disposal to all landfills not fulfilling special requirements should be stopped. All waste landfills not fulfilling special requirements should be closed according to approved regulations.
Malta 2004 Closure of Maghtab and il-Qortin waste disposal sites.
Netherlands 2030 All historical contaminated sites investigated and under control and remediated when necessary.
Norway 2005 Environmental problems on sites with contaminated soil, where investigation and remediation is needed, shall be solved. On sites where further investigation is needed, the environmental state shall be clarified.
Sweden 2020 Environmental quality objective: a non-toxic environment.
Switzerland 2025 The "dirty" heritage of the past should be dealt with in a sustainable way within one generation.
UK (England and Wales) 2007 At a political level, the Environment Agency aims to substantially remediate and/or investigate 80 Special Sites identified under Part IIA Regime (Environmental Protection Act 1990).

Related policy documents

  • COM (2001) 0162 (02)
    Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament: Biodiversity action plans in the areas of conservation of natural resources, agriculture, fisheries, and development and economic co-operation.COM (2001) 0162 (02)
  • COM (2002) 179 final
    Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament, the European Economic and SocialCommittee and the Committee of the Regions: Towards a thematic strategy for soil protection.COM (2002) 179 final
  • Commission Decision (2000/479/EC) - EPER
    Commission Decision of 17th July 2000, on the implementation of a European pollutant emission register (EPER) according to Article 15 of Council Directive 96/61/EC concerning integrated pollution prevention and control (IPPC). (2000/479/EC)
  • Council Directive 96/61/EC (IPPC)
    Council Directive 96/61/EC of 24 September 1996 concerning Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC). Official Journal L 257.
  • Directive 99/31/EC on landfill of Waste
    Directive 99/31/EC on landfill of Waste
  • Water Framework Directive (WFD) 2000/60/EC
    Water Framework Directive (WFD) 2000/60/EC: Directive 2000/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2000 establishing a framework for Community action in the field of water policy.

Key policy question

How is the problem of contaminated sites being addressed (clean-up of historical contamination and prevention of new contamination)?

Specific policy question

Which sectors contribute most to soil contamination ?

Specific policy question

How much is being spent on cleaning-up soil contamination ? How much of the public budget is being used ?

Specific policy question

How much progress is being achieved in the management and control of local soil contamination?

Specific policy question

Which are the main contaminants affecting soil and groundwater in and around contaminated sites?

Specific policy question

What progress is being made in the redevelopment of brownfields?


Methodology for indicator calculation

Progress in management of local soil contamination in Europe: the data source identifies the number of sites at each management/processing steps. Data is aggregated considering those countries that provide a complete record for all the management steps. The projection to year 2050 is done on the basis of the annual increase rate calculated for the period 2001-2006. This rate is multiplied by the number of years from 2006 to 2025 (linear trend assumed) and the result is added to the figure of 2006.

Estimated allocation of public and private expenditures for site remediation. This information is directly provided by countries. The European figure is a weighted average based on those countries that provided data. The total annual management expenditure is used to whieght the percentage of public and private expenditures in each country.

Breakdown of local  sources of soil contamination. Countries provide the data in terms of the percentage contributions of the specific sectors to the total number of sites. Percentages are weighted by the number of sites that have gone through site investiagation in order to obtain European shares.

Breakdown of industrial and commercial activities  causing local soil contamination: the data are  provided directly by countries in terms of the percentage contributions of the specific sectors to the total number of sites.

Expenditures on remediation of contaminated sites: raw data (in kEUR) are transformed in EUR per capita and as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product.

Status of completed risk reduction measures. Percentage of remediated sites: [Number of remediated sites]/[Estimated number of potentially polluting activites sites]*100. Percentage of sites where need for remediation measures is estimated: [Estimated number of contaminated sites][Estimated number of potentially polluting activites sites]*100.
Main contaminants affecting soil and groundwater. Contaminants are ranked taking into account the number of countries where the contaminant appears as first or second contaminant. Then a score is calulated: [Number of countries as first contaminant]*2 + [Number of cuntries as 2nd contaminant].


Methodology for gap filling

The methodology for gap filling depends on the type of figure:
  • Gap filling when time series are not represented. In that case the figure is related to the most recent data request. If data is missed, the most recent data available is used and it is indicated on the notes.
  • Gap filling for estimated number of potantially polluting activity sites  (Figure 1). In certain countries information on sites where preliminary study has been finished and number of remediated sites is available. However, the estimated number of potentially polluting activity sites is missed. In that case the following procedure has been followed:
  1. Countries with complete data set for the reference year has been selected
  2. From 1 aggregated values (number of sites) are computed for all management steps. 
  3. From 2 the ratio  [number of sites where preliminary study has been finished]/ [estimated number of potentially polluting activity sites] is calculated. It can be considered an European average.
  4. The ratio obtained in step 3 is applied to countries where estimated number of potentially polluting activity sites is missing.
  • Gap filling for time series. See the complete description on the reference "Methodology for the projections to year 2025".

Methodology references

Data specifications

EEA data references

  • No datasets have been specified here.

Data sources in latest figures


Methodology uncertainty

There is no commonly used definition for dealing with contaminated sites. Although a definition is introduced within this indicator, it might occur that various countries run their specific contaminated site management system in different ways and their management steps for example do not fit perfectly to that definition.

Aggregated data at European level is strongly influenced by the number of countries that provided data. Because existing data is not always avaiable for the same reference year, sometimes the figures presented on the indicator cover a time gap of 2 to 4 years.

The greater uncertainty is associated to estimates (e.g. estimated number of contaminated sites), usually based on expert judgement. This uncertainty increases with the projections to year 2025. In that case a linear trend has been assumed, representing probably the maximum that can be reached in that year.

Not sufficiently clear methodology and data specifications may have induced countries to interpret data specifications in different ways and therefore have provided information which may not be fully comparable. This problem has been progressively solved as better specifications have been introduced in the questionnaire. As a result quality of data has been improving.

Data sets uncertainty


Geographical and time coverage on EU level:

  • Not all countries have been included in the calculations of the indicator (due to            unavailability of data).
  • Some countries are lacking behind in their management of contaminated sites, whereas other countries have made huge progress already. Good availability of data at national level where contaminated sites management is centralised .
  • The data available so far allows to evaluate limited time trends. With a time series of the management steps a very good indication of the progress  made in the individual countries is given. And exactly this fact should be compared when looking at an individual country over a certain period of time

Representativeness of data on national level:

  • Most of the data integrates information from the whole country. However the process greatly differs from country to country depending on the degree of decentralisation. Also in countries with decentralised systems, the coordination may be different. In general the quality and representativeness of the data increses with the centralisation of the information.


  • Better definition of indicator and clear definition of management steps were introduced in 2003 which leads to better comparability. Quality of collected data increases where the organisation of data management, financing and funding is centralised.
  • Progress in management of contaminated sites may vary from one country to another depending on the status of evaluation of total number of expected contaminated sites. In addition, different management steps in countries may difficult its comparison. However, the indicator tries to define different steps in a way that would be possible to harmonise different definitions. Moreover, some countries may have interpreted data specifications in different ways and therefore have provided information which may not be fully comparable. This problem is expected to be solved in the future, as better documentation of the methodology for calculation is provided.
  • National estimates on clean-up expenditures are not directly comparable. Estimates reported by countries may be partial, as they could refer to a subset of regions or include only public fundings. However they provide:
      • a baseline for the analysis of the management process for tackling local soil contamination;
      • an indication of the amount of public and partly private money spent on remediation activities;
      • an indication of the relevance of the contaminated sites issue and its economic burden in each country.
  • National data on polluting activities can be considered roughly comparable.

Rationale uncertainty

There is no common definition of contaminated sites agreed at the European level. This is expected to change in the future, as a common definition would probably be  included in  the soil thematic strategy. 


Contaminated sites can be defined in several ways. One possible definition could be based on the exceedance of established limits in concentrations of hazardous chemicals. However, common limits are unlikely to be established at the European level since they may be strongly influenced by local soil and geological properties.


As a consequence, for this indicator, a working definition based on the concept of impact levels (see table below) has been adopted, in agreement with member countries.  In particular, contaminated sites are sites where soil contamination poses significative negative effects on human health and ecosystems (levels 2 and 3), while potentially contaminated sites are sites where soil contamination is supected to pose significative negative effects on human health and ecosystems (site investigation has not been completed).


Table Definition of impact levels


Long Definition

Brief Definition

Level 0

Sites that do not pose any negative effects to human health or the environment;  ' related environmental media can be used multi-functionally

no impacts; no restrictions

Level 1

Sites where related environmental media have tolerable contamination levels and which do not pose significant negative effects to human health or the environment, monitoring maybe necessary;  ' related environmental media can be used multi-functionally

minor impacts (tolerable contamination); no restrictions; monitoring

Level 2

Sites that pose significant negative effects to human health or the environment if the use of the related environmental media changes to a more sensitive one, monitoring maybe necessary;  ' limited use of related environmental media

no significant impacts under current use of environmental media, restricted use only

Level 3

Sites that pose significant negative effects to human health or the environment under current use of related environmental media;  ' activities as regards risk reduction needed.

Significant impacts, activities needed

The fact that there are  no common agreed definitions provides an element of uncertainty in the assessment of the situation at the European level. To minimise this problem, the indicator focuses on the impacts of the contamination and provide information on progress in management, rather than focussing on the extension of the problem (e.g. number of contaminated sites).

Although several countries still present inconsistent definitions regarding site management steps, there has been a great improvement since the first data provided by countries.

Due to different management practices in place in the various countries, some of them might provide certain estimates in one year and come up with different estimates in the following years. This might depend on the status of completion of national inventories (e.g. at the beginning of registration not all sites are included, but after a more accurate screening the number of sites may increase). Therefore the information has to be intepreted and presented  carefully, taking into account all the uncertainties, problems of data comparability and the specific aspects mentioned above.

Cost estimates of remediation are difficult to obtain, especially from the private sector. Therefore teh information provided is partial. However, the indicator shows that remediation is costly, even if only public expenditures are considered. Breakdown of cost estimates (investigation, remediation) improves data comparability across countries.

Further work

Short term work

Work specified here requires to be completed within 1 year from now.

Long term work

Work specified here will require more than 1 year (from now) to be completed.

Work description

Further work will include the following aspects: Improve the definitions to take into account policy developments and improve data comparability (e.g. definitions of contaminated sites, management steps,  economic sectors, etc.). This was partly done in the 2006 data request. Based on these results a flow chart will be used to better represent the management steps, data requested, and the indicator. It will also help to better identify different approaches between countries. link analysis of progress in management to the analysis of impacts (e.g. current work on assessment of problem areas), improve classification of sources of soil contamination. Related those sources to the different sectors (e.g. transport, energy,...). The same applies to industrial and commercial activities as a subset of the local sources.

Resource needs

A work plan with details on timing and resources is being prepared.


In progress


2099/01/01 00:00:00 GMT+1

General metadata

Responsibility and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Geertrui Veerle Erika Louwagie


European Environment Agency (EEA)


Indicator code
CSI 015
LSI 003
Version id: 1
Primary theme: Soil Soil


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Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled every 5 years


DPSIR: Response
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)

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European Environment Agency (EEA)
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1050 Copenhagen K
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