Indicator Assessment

Progress in management of contaminated sites

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-10-en
  Also known as: LSI 003
Published 01 Aug 2007 Last modified 11 May 2021
34 min read
This is an old version, kept for reference only.

Go to latest version
This page was archived on 25 Aug 2017 with reason: A new version has been published

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 euro

Data source:

Overview of progress in the management of contaminated sites in Europe

Note: The graphs shows the status in investigation and clean-up of contaminated sites in Europe

Data source:

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 completed

Data source:

Overview of contaminants affecting soil and groundwater in Europe

Note: The graph shows an overview of main contaminants affecting soil

Data source:

EIONET priority data flow (Soil contamination).

In EEA member countries, it is estimated that potentially polluting activities have occurred at about three million sites[1]. 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.

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

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 completed

Data source:

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 activity

Data source:

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.

Annual national expenditures for management of contaminated sites per unit of GDP

Note: The graph shows annual expenditure for the management of contaminated sites as o/oo of GDP

Data source:

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[2].

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).

[2] 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

Remediation technologies

Note: The graph shows remediation technologies applied in the surveyed countries as percentages of number of sites per type of treatment

Data source:

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[3][4]. 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[5]), 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.[6]

[3] 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.

[4] Source of information for the United Kingdom:

Environment Agency of England & Wales, 2005. Indicators of land contamination. August 2005.

[5] 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).

[6] Source of information for Ireland:

EPA, 2006. Environment in focus 2006. Irish Environmental Protection Agency, 2006.

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.

Data on the redevelopment of brownfields are patchy and hardly comparable, reflecting the lack of a common definition of the problem across Europe.[7]

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.

[7] 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:
  • 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, 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.

Supporting information

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.


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

No methodology references available.



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.

Data sources

Other info

DPSIR: Response
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Indicator codes
  • LSI 003
Frequency of updates
Updates are scheduled every 5 years
EEA Contact Info


Geographic coverage

Temporal coverage


Document Actions