Progress in management of contaminated sites (LSI 003/CSI 015) - Assessment published Aug 2007
Soil (Primary topic)
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
- LSI 003
- CSI 015
Key policy question: How is the problem of contaminated sites being addressed (clean-up of historical contamination and prevention of new contamination)?
Soil contamination requiring clean up is present at approximately 250000 sites in the EEA member countries, according to recent estimates. And this number is expected to grow. Potentially polluting activities are estimated to have occurred at nearly 3 million sites (including the 250000 sites already mentioned) and investigation is needed to establish whether remediation is required. If current investigation trends continue, the number of sites needing remediation will increase by 50% by 2025.
By contrast, more than 80000 sites have been cleaned up in the last 30 years in the countries where data on remediation is available. Although the range of polluting activities (and their relative importance as localised sources of soil contamination) may vary considerably across Europe, industrial and commercial activities as well as the treatment and disposal of waste are reported to be the most important sources. National reports indicate that heavy metals and mineral oil are the most frequent soil contaminants at investigated sites, while mineral oil and chlorinated hydrocarbons are the most frequent contaminants found in groundwater. A considerable share of remediation expenditure, about 35% on average, comes from public budgets. Although considerable efforts have been made already, it will take decades to clean up a legacy of contamination.
Estimated allocation of public and private expenditures for management of contaminated sites by country
Note: The graph shows the estimated allocation of public and private expenditure for site remediation.Values on top indicate total annual management expenditure in Million euroDownloads and more info
Overview of activities causing soil contamination in Europe
Note: The graph shows a breakdown of the main sources causing soil contamination in Europe as % of the number of sites where preliminary investigations have been completedDownloads and more info
Overview of contaminants affecting soil and groundwater in Europe
Note: The graph shows an overview of main contaminants affecting soil
EIONET priority data flow (Soil contamination).
In EEA member countries, it is estimated that potentially polluting activities have occurred at about three million sites. National estimates show that more than 8% (or nearly 250000 sites) are contaminated and need to be remediated (Fig. 1 Overview of progress in the management of contaminated sites in Europe).
These estimates have increased considerably over the past years, due to progress in investigation, monitoring and data collection, and this trend is expected to continue in the future. According to projections based on the analysis of the changes observed in the last five years, the total number of contaminated sites needing remediation may increase by more than 50% by 2025. Moreover, remediation is progressing relatively slowly: in the last thirty years, only just over 80000 sites have been cleaned-up in the countries where data on remediated sites are available (This covers about 70% of the area of the EEA and collaborating countries).
Losses of contaminants during industrial and commercial operations, municipal and industrial waste treatment, oil extraction and production; and inadequate storage are the main sources of soil contamination in Europe (Fig. 2 Overview of activities causing soil contamination in Europe).
The range of contaminants found in the investigated sites varies from country to country. However, overall estimates identify heavy metals and mineral oil as the main soil contaminants in Europe. These estimates are based on the frequency with which a specific contaminant is reported to be the most important in the investigated sites. Other contaminants include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), aromatic hydrocarbons (BTEX), phenols and chlorinated hydrocarbons (CHC) (see Fig. 3 Overview of contaminants affecting soil in Europe). Mineral oil and heavy metals are reported as the most relevant contaminants for groundwater.
A considerable amount of private and public money has already been spent on remediation activities. However, this is relatively small compared to the total estimated costs. Annual expenditure on the management of contaminated sites is on average about 2% of the estimated overall management costs in the countries for which such estimates are available.
Although most of the countries in Europe have legislative instruments which apply the "polluter-pays" principle to the management of contaminated sites, large sums of public money are provided to fund remediation activities (Fig. 4 Estimated allocation of public and private expenditure for the management of contaminated sites). This is due to the limited applicability of the principle in the case of the remediation of historical contamination, as many of the legally responsible polluters either no longer exist, cannot be identified or are insolvent. This is a common trend across Europe. On average, approximately 35% of total expenditure in the surveyed countries derives from public budgets. This ranges from a maximum of 100% of public funds employed in the Czech Republic, FYR of Macedonia and Spain to a minimum of about 7% in France, where a large proportion of funds comes from the private sector. However, it must be taken into account that only rough data on public expenditures is widely available and information on private expenditures is patchy.
 Estimates do not include Cyprus, Poland and Portugal.
Specific policy question: Which sectors contribute most to soil contamination ?
Breakdown of activities causing local soil contamination.
Note: The graph shows a breakdown of the main sources causing soil contamination by country as % of the number of sites where preliminary investigations have been completedDownloads and more info
Detailed analysis of industrial and commercial activities causing soil contamination by country
Note: The graph shows a breakdown of the industrial and commercial activities causing soil contamination as % of the number of sites for each branch of activityDownloads and more info
The distribution of the sources of soil pollution across economic sectors differs from country to country, reflecting their industrial structure, the level of implementation of pollution prevention measures, the various risk assessment and management approaches and the different classifications of economic activities adopted. Nevertheless, industrial and commercial activities as well as the treatment and disposal of waste remain the most important sources in Europe (Fig. 2 Overview of activities causing soil contamination in Europe).
Contamination from oil storage is relatively important in some countries, such as Latvia, Estonia and Croatia, where it respectively covers 46%, 42% and 36% of all contaminating activities identified. In Bulgaria, the storage of obsolete chemicals covers more than 30% of all activities (Fig. 5 Breakdown of main activities causing soil contamination by country). Moreover, existing publications seem to overestimate the importance of mining and military activities in Europe, with the exceptions of the FYR of Macedonia (where mining sites represent 27% of all sources of contamination) and Estonia (where military sites cover 14% of all investigated sites).
At industrial and commercial sites, handling losses, leakages from tanks and pipelines, and accidents are the most frequent sources of soil and groundwater contamination. Industrial sources come mainly from the chemical and metal working industries, energy production and the oil industry (Fig. 6 Detailed analysis of industrial and commercial activities causing soil contamination by country). Although most European countries probably have relatively comparable numbers of gasoline stations and dry cleaners, their perceived importance in posing significant risks to human health and the environment varies considerably across Europe. This is reflected in national legislation. Gasoline and car service stations are reported as most frequent sources of soil contamination in Luxembourg (84% of all sources), Latvia (61%), Italy (52%) and Finland (51%). In Austria and Belgium (Brussels region) the frequency of dry cleaning as a source of contamination is high, accounting for more than 20% (see Fig. 6 Detailed analysis of industrial and commercial activities causing soil contamination by country - commercial services). In other countries, gasoline stations and dry cleaners are not included in national inventories.
Specific policy question: How much is being spent on cleaning-up soil contamination ? How much of the public budget is being used ?
Annual national expenditure for the management of contaminated sites are on average about 12 EUR per capita, with a range of approximately 0.2 to more than 20 EUR per capita in the reporting countries. This corresponds to an average of 0.7 per mille of the national Gross Domestic Product (Fig. 7 Annual national expenditure for the management of contaminated sites per unit of GDP). The largest portion of expenditure is employed for remediation measures (nearly 60% of the total expenditures) and site investigations (about 40% of total expenditures). It should be noted that, the number of sites to be investigated is much higher than the number of remediated sites (see Fig. 1 Overview of progress in the management of contaminated sites in Europe). At the EU level, the rehabilitation of industrial sites has been funded through the framework of the Structural Funds using a total budget of 2.250 billion EUR for the EU25 in the period 2005-2013.
Annual management expenditure has been almost constant in the period 2000 - 2006, but varies considerably from country to country. There is, in fact, a 100-fold difference in annual expenditures per capita across Europe. This difference does not necessarily reflect a different level of awareness of the problem in the countries, but may be due to the different environmental standards applied, as well as the specific local conditions and the degree of industrialisation. However, comparisons must be made with caution, due to lack of data of the costs borne by the private sector.
In addition to the degree and extent of the contamination, environmental standards, local site conditions and applied technologies are the main cost components. The link between environmental merit and invested budgets is highly dependent on national regulations and the way they are implemented. Costs are highly related to the different remediation targets and local site conditions. Stringent measures aiming at the removal of the sources of contamination usually tend to cause large investments (such as in Austria) whereas 'fit-for-use'-approaches, aiming at revitalising a site for a not very sensitive use, such as industrial use, are much less cost-intensive or may even require only land use restrictions (such as in the United Kingdom). An analysis of the costs per site covering seven countries and three regions shows that:
- the average unitary costs for the investigation of a (potentially) contaminated site range between 500 and 50000 EUR, with the exception of Austria, where the average costs are in the range of 50000 - 500000 EUR in approximately 90% of the sites. Investigation costs lower than 500 EUR per site as well as costs beyond 500000 EUR are not commonly reported;
- the costs for the application of risk-reduction measures range from 500 - 50000 EUR per site. However, in Austria and the FYR of Macedonia, remediation expenses range between 50000 and 500000 EUR in 55% and 44% of the sites respectively. In Slovakia and the Czech Republic the costs of remediation vary between 500000 and 5 million EUR in 17% and 19% of the sites respectively. With the exception of Austria, remediation costs exceeding 5 million EUR per site are rarely reported. By contrast, only the Czech Republic and the FYR of Macedonia reported costs are less than 500 EUR in a significant number of sites (respectively 17% and 13% of all remediations).
 Source of data: The contribution of structural and cohesion funds to a better environment. Document by the European Network of Environmental Authorities (ENEA). Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, 2006
Specific policy question: How much progress is being achieved in the management and control of local soil contamination?
Due to economic and logistical reasons, the management of contaminated sites follows a tiered approach with increased efforts and expenses at each step. In Europe, initial steps in the sequence such as preliminary investigations are far advanced, whereas final steps such as detailed investigation and remediation are progressing slowly.
Based on information from national inventories, the progress in the management of contaminated sites varies significantly across Europe, depending on the different national management approaches and legal requirements. In most of the countries for which data are available, site identification activities are generally advanced. As a result of preliminary surveys, just over 60% of the sites have already been confirmed as potentially contaminated and need to be submitted for detailed investigations. Detailed investigations and remediation activities are generally progressing slowly. More is being learned on the size of the problem but the speed of the clean-up is slow (see Fig. 1 Overview of progress in the management of contaminated sites in Europe).
Nevertheless, progress in the remediation of sites has been observed. In the countries for which comparable figures on remediation are available, the number of cleaned-up sites has increased by more than 150% on average between 2001 and 2006, with increases in individual countries ranging from approximately 30% (Austria, Italy) to around 600% (Belgium, Norway). By contrast, the total number of sites awaiting remediation has grown by about 40% on average in the same period, while the estimates on the number of sites where potentially polluting activities have taken place have more than doubled. This progress is due not only to improvements in investigation, data collection and reporting, but also to the increasing experience in the risk assessment. As long as observed trends continue in the future, more efforts will be needed to solve the problem of historical contamination by 2050.
Most cases of contamination are a legacy from the past. However, current activities may still cause soil contamination. In the United Kingdom, for example, more than 2% of the estimated total contaminated sites are classified as newly created contaminated land. In the future, the implementation of the EU and national legislative and regulatory frameworks already in place (e.g. Landfill Directive, Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Directive, Water Framework Directive, Environmental Liability Directive) should result in the more efficient prevention of releases of contaminants into the environment, and into soil in particular. As a consequence, most of the efforts for remediation are expected to be concentrated on historical contamination.
Inventories or registers of contaminated sites represent an important tool for the effective management of soil contamination from local sources. This is recognised in the proposal for a Soil Framework Directive, published by the European Commission in September 2006 which requires the establishment of national inventories of contaminated sites in the EU.
According to available data, there is already a good basis for fulfilling this requirement. In fact, as of 2006, inventories or registers have been established in 24 EEA and collaborating countries. The registers are kept at the national level in 20 countries, while regional inventories exist in more than 55% of the 28 countries covered by the survey. In some countries, localised inventories have also been established to cover specific areas and activities. In Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, registers are kept only at regional or local level. Only three countries have no registers (namely Cyprus, Malta and Turkey), while Greece only reported local inventories.
In all countries, inventories take into account both historical and new contamination (the latter with some restrictions), potentially polluting activities (abandoned and in operation), potentially contaminated sites and contaminated sites. Almost all inventories include industrial, commercial and waste disposal sites. Harbours, pipelines, airports, nuclear operations, accidents are registered in approximately 50% of the countries. For each site, most of the registers provide information on the exact location, site characteristics, local conditions, environmental impacts (in terms of risks to environmental media) and progress in the management of the site.
In all the surveyed countries, soil and groundwater are reported to be by far the most important media investigated. Investigation of surface water, sediments, waste and indoor air are less common (with the exception in Austria, where soil gas and indoor air are investigated in 60% and 20% of all sites respectively).
Several techniques are available for the reduction of the risks caused by soil contamination. In the reporting countries, there is a balance in the application of innovative in situ (on-site) and ex situ (off-site) techniques. A significant high percentage of the most-frequently applied techniques can be defined as traditional (Fig. 8 Remediation technologies - Other soil treatments) such as the so-called "dig and dump" techniques and the containment of the contaminated area. This reflects the fact that contaminated soil is frequently treated as waste to be disposed of rather than a valuable resource to be cleaned and reused. In Ireland, for example, contaminated soil was reported as the largest single hazardous waste type generated in 2004, accounting for more than 45 per cent of the total reported volumes.
 New contamination refers to events which occurred after the entry into force of relevant national legislation and the introduction of national regimes on contaminated sites.
 Source of information for the United Kingdom:
Environment Agency of England & Wales, 2005. Indicators of land contamination. August 2005.
 Source of information for Turkey:
NATO/CCMS-Turkey, 2006. Tour de Table: The situation of contaminated sites in Turkey. Country presentation at the NATO/CCMS Pilot Study workshop Prevention and Remediation In Selected Industrial Sectors: Small Sites in Urban Areas, 4-7 June 2006, Athens, Greece, organised by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Committee on the Challenges of Modern Accessible online at NATO/CCMS Pilot Study: Prevention and Remediation Issues in Selected Industrial Sectors (Last Accessed February 2007).
 Source of information for Ireland:
EPA, 2006. Environment in focus 2006. Irish Environmental Protection Agency, 2006.
Specific policy question: Which are the main contaminants affecting soil and groundwater in and around contaminated sites?
National reports indicate that heavy metals and mineral oil are the most frequent soil contaminants at investigated sites (Fig. 3 Overview of contaminants affecting soil and groundwater in Europe), while mineral oil and chlorinated hydrocarbons are the most frequent contaminants found in groundwater.
The risks to human health and the environment vary considerably with the specific contaminant, the site specific conditions and exposure of the receptors. In fact, the risks are determined by the physical -chemical properties of the contaminants such as: solubility, mobility, volatility, sorption capacity, persistence etc; the pathways to potential receptors (e.g. the existence of an impermeable layer, the permeability and thickness of the unsaturated zone etc.) as well as the exposure of the receptors (e.g. humans or animals). Therefore, the assessment of the impacts of contamination has to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
The protection of groundwater resources and the exposure of humans via drinking water from ground sources are reported by far as the most important motives for the application of risk-reduction measures. The protection of the soil per se has a relatively low importance (this is only reported in Hungary in 10% of all remediated sites). This may be due to the lack of specific regulations covering the soil media, but also due to the wider dispersion of contaminants in groundwater compared to soil. Relatively low priority, with a few exceptions is assigned to the remediation of sites where exposure to the contaminants comes from surface water, soil gas and the food chain. Only in very few cases are remediation activities reported to be triggered by the protection of ecosystems, e.g. in Croatia and the Czech Republic, and the loss of biodiversity (Croatia, Malta).
An assessment of the impacts of the above mentioned contaminants in soil and groundwater would require a detailed knowledge of the local situation in each site (e.g. type and amount of contaminants, hydro-geological conditions, land use, receptors, etc.) and therefore cannot be carried out at European level. An assessment focussing on problem areas of soil contamination in Europe, based on national data and a common methodology, would be a feasible alternative. This work is currently at an early stage and the limited results of recent data collections do not allow conclusions to be made which can be validated at European level. The limited response is mainly motivated by the lack of resources and by restrictions in reporting site-specific information which is seen as politically-sensitive in the absence of legally-binding obligations.
Nevertheless, the results of preliminary analysis, covering 33 problem areas in three countries (Austria, Hungary and Italy) show that these areas have several factors in common which influence to a lesser or greater degree the progress being made towards solving the problem. These factors do not always seem to include the size of the affected land, which may vary from less than 1 km2 to more than 1000 km2 in the analysed problem areas. Other factors include:
- nature and complexity of the activities which have been identified as sources of soil contamination. Industrial and commercial activities are the sources most frequently reported;
- nature and complexity of contamination: the main contaminants identified include heavy metals, the BTEX group (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, chlorinated hydrocarbons and other inorganic compounds, as well as asbestos and mineral oil. The presence of these contaminants makes the remediation particularly difficult and costly;
- nature and complexity of the impacts: the presence of several impacted or threatened receptors, including land uses, has been reported in most of the problem areas. This is seen as a major factor in determining the problem. The main receptors include groundwater (seen mainly as a drinking water source), and urban and industrial land uses. The impacts of contamination on surface waters, coastal areas and food safety are also seen as relevant. By contrast, the impacts on ecosystems seem not to be considered to be of high priority for remediation;
- complexity of management and liability issues: the presence in the area of many site owners is frequently reported;
- limited progress achieved in remediation: in general the investigation and implementation of remedial activities proceed at a fast pace in all the areas analysed, while the rate of completion of remedial actions is still low.
Specific policy question: What progress is being made in the redevelopment of brownfields?
Data on the redevelopment of brownfields are patchy and hardly comparable, reflecting the lack of a common definition of the problem across Europe.
Luxembourg reported that brownfield redevelopment proceeded at a speed of 30 ha/day in 2006.
In the United Kingdom, targets have been established to minimise the consumption of greenfield sites and the recycling of land is regularly monitored. The percentage of new developments on previously developed land exceeded 60% in 2003, while the share of new dwellings arising from building on previously developed areas or through the conversion of existing buildings increased from 54% to 73% in the period 1990-2005.
In Austria, the number of brownfield sites is in the range of 3.000-6.000, covering an area between 8.000 and 13.000 ha. According to estimates based on their previous use, about 85% of the industrial brownfield sites present no or little contamination and could be revitalised and reused without public funding for remediation. Considering an increase of industrial brownfield sites of about 3 ha per day, about a quarter of the annual land requirement for housing and economic activities could be saved by reconverting brownfield sites to a productive use.
In Germany, the average daily greenfield consumption was 93 ha in 2003, 80% of which was used for human settlements. Germany has a target to reduce the consumption of greenfield sites to 30 ha per day by 2020.
Above all, the redevelopment of brownfields could contribute to the improvement of the urban environment and slow the consumption of greenfield sites. It may also have benefits on economic development and employment. In Ireland, for example, urban renewal provided an estimated total of nearly 80000 net additional jobs (direct and derived) in city and town centre locations in the period 1986-1996.
Together with the benefits, the use of brownfields also brings many challenges. The redevelopment of brownfields is often marginally or not economically viable as compared to greenfield development. To increase its competitiveness, there is a need for the implementation of a complete package of measures, including economic, legal and fiscal incentives. In the period 2000-2006, the Structural funds planned expenditure for the EU25 was of 2.25 billion EUR for the rehabilitation of industrial sites and about 2 billion EUR for the rehabilitation of urban areas. This has been translated into national operational programmes. In Italy, for example, in the same period, expenditures from the EU structural funds together with other public and private sources were targeted at the clean-up of 17 of the 54 contaminated areas identified as being of national interest for remediation. The areas were located in the seven Objective-1 regions and received a total amount of 770 million EUR (or more than 2% of the total budget of the regional operational programmes). Nevertheless, there are still insufficient national programmes for promoting the rehabilitation of brownfield sites across Europe.
 Additional data sources:
- European Union: ENEA, 2006. The contribution of structural and cohesion funds to a better environment. Document by the European Network of Environmental Authorities (ENEA). Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, 2006
- Austria: Umweltbundesamt website on brownfields in Austria, last accessed April 2007: http://www.umweltbundesamt.at/en/umweltschutz/altlasten/projekte1/nat/brach_kurz/
- Germany: Thornton, G. at al., 2006. The challenge of sustainability: incentives for brownfield regeneration in Europe. Paper by Gareth Thornton, Martin Franz, David Edwards, Gernot Pahlen, Paul Nathanail. Paper published on line at ScienceDirect.com, Elsevier on 15 november 2006.
- Ireland: EPA, 2005. Brownfield site redevelopment. EPA viewpoint. Irish Environmental Protection Agency. October 2005.
- Italy: ISS, 2005. Indagini epidemiologiche nei siti di interesse nazionale per le bonifiche delle regioni italiane previste dai Fondi strutturali dell'Unione europea (Epidemiological analyses in the sites considered national priorities for remediation located in the Italian regions eligible for the EU Structural funds). Italian national institute for health. Rapporti ISTISAN 05/1. Istituto Superiore di Sanita 2005.
- United Kingdom: DEFRA, 2006. Sustainable development indicators in your pocket. United Kingdom Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 2006.
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This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
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