Land can be contaminated by things like:

  • heavy metals, such as arsenic, cadmium and lead
  • oils and tars
  • chemical substances and preparations, like solvents
  • gases
  • asbestos
  • radioactive substances

What counts as contaminated land

Land is legally defined as ‘contaminated land’ where substances are causing or could cause:

  • significant harm to people, property or protected species
  • significant pollution of surface waters (for example lakes and rivers) or groundwater
  • harm to people as a result of radioactivity

Contaminated land may previously have been used as a:

  • factory
  • mine
  • steel mill
  • refinery
  • landfill

Special sites

Some types of contaminated land are classed as ‘special sites’. This includes land that:

  • seriously affects drinking waters, surface waters or important groundwater sources
  • has been, or is being, used for certain industrial activities, such as oil refining or making explosives
  • is being or has been regulated using a permit issued under the integrated pollution control or pollution prevention and control regimes
  • has been used to get rid of waste acid tars
  • is owned or occupied by the Ministry of Defence
  • is contaminated by radioactivity
  • is a nuclear site

The Environment Agency has technical guidance on special sites.

Once a local council has decided that an area is a special site, it is regulated by: