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You are here: Home / Environmental topics / Soil / Contamination from local sources

Contamination from local sources

Throughout Europe soil contamination affects almost 250 000 sites, and is expected to continue growing. Potentially polluting activities are estimated at nearly 3 million sites across the EU, many of which need further investigation to establish the damage and whether soil remediation (clean up) is required. Although considerable efforts have been made in some countries, it will take decades to clean up the legacy of soil contamination. Over the last 30 years approximately 80 000 sites have been cleaned up in the countries where data on remediation is available.

F1 Overview of progress in the management of contaminated sites in Europe

Fig. 1 Overview of progress in the management of contaminated sites in Europe

Due to progress in monitoring and data collection, estimates on the number of sites requiring investigation and clean-up have increased in the recent past, a trend which is expected to continue.  In addition, the number of remediated sites is increasing, albeit relatively slowly [1].

The range of polluting activities — and their relative importance as localised sources of soil contamination — may vary considerably across Europe, with the most important sources being industrial and commercial activities and the treatment and disposal of waste.

F2 Overview of activities causing soil contamination in Europe

Fig. 2 Overview of activities causing soil contamination in Europe

Reports from countries across Europe 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. These estimates are based on the frequency a contaminant is reported at the investigated site. Other contaminants include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), aromatic hydrocarbons (BTEX), phenols and chlorinated hydrocarbons (CHC).

F3 Overview of contaminants affecting soil and groundwater in Europe

Fig. 3 Overview of contaminants affecting soil and groundwater in Europe

Cleaning up contaminated sites is a costly exercise. However, in the countries where estimates are possible, the annual expenditure remains relatively small, on average representing 2 % of the estimated costs necessary for the overall management of contaminated sites.

Although most of the countries in Europe have legislation which apply the "polluter-pays" principle to the management of contaminated sites, large sums of public money are still provided to fund remediation activities: on average 35 % of the total expenditure. This is primarily due to the limited nature of the legislation, especially in the case of the remediation of historical contamination, where many of the legally responsible polluters no longer exist, cannot be identified or are insolvent.

Sadly this is a common trend across Europe. The proportion of public funds used to clean up contaminated sites ranges from 100 % in the Czech Republic, former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Spain, to a minimum of approximately 7 % in France, where a large proportion of funds comes from the private sector. But like many aspects of soil information only approximate data on public expenditure is available and information on private expenditures remains patchy.

F4 Estimated allocation of public and private expenditure for the management of contaminated sites

Fig. 4 Estimated allocation of public and private expenditure for the management of contaminated sites

 

[1] Estimates do not include Cyprus, Poland and Portugal.

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