Article Contaminated Land Laboratories

Weighing up the Risk

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Ecological Risk Assessment (ERA)

A new framework for assessing risks to ecological systems from contaminants in soils was published by the Environment Agency in October 2008, superseding the draft methodology from 2004. The new methodology is designed to establish whether pollutant linkages are likely to exist between soil contamination and designated ecological receptors, and to gather information for making decisions on whether harm to receptors is occurring or could occur in the future.

The ERA framework fits into the established structure of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (Part 2A Contaminated Land Regulations) for assessing risks from contaminated soil and is now a standard part of contaminated land assessments where ecological receptors are identified.

As well as the contaminated land regime, the guidance is relevant to planning and pollution control, habitats and conservation regimes, and the Environmental Damage Regulations. ERA will be applicable either for assessing risks during a due diligence process or for under-writing environmental insurance. It is also appropriate for assessments relating to environmental permit applications or for justifying an appeal against an Environmental Damage Notice.

The framework follows a three-tiered process:

  1. Screening: compares chemical data to UK published soil screening values (SSVs) or with published data from other countries;
  2. Survey: the use of ecological surveys and bioassays to gather evidence of harm to receptors;
  3. Assessment: the establishment of a connection between the established harm to the species or habitat and the soil contamination.
Soil Screening Values (SSVs) have been published for twelve compounds. The assessor can use the published values or derive a “predicted environmental concentration” specific to the site, using a simple “decision tool” that is available on the website.

SSVs are based on a “predicted no effect concentration” to an ecological receptor and are, therefore, extremely conservative. Published values are lower than equivalent guideline values for human health. Exceeding SSV triggers further assessment and is not an automatic requirement for remediation.


At PBA, we have already updated our existing assessment procedures to take account of the new framework and will continue to provide a full range of contamination and ecological services to enable effective management of ecological risks from soil contamination.

Jenny Allen (Environment)

Catherine Copping (Geo)

Article Contaminated Land Laboratories

Modernising Waste Regulation – Environment Agency Update

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Under new procedures “simple” exempt activities can now be registered by calling the National Customer Contact Centre on 08708 506506.   Trained advisors will provide basic advice and offer the option of registering by phone, email or using a two page form. An online web based system will also be introduced in the future. More complex exemptions, including all chargeable exemptions, will continue to be dealt with by local Area staff who have to undertake a site specific risk assessment.

Waste Licensing

“Fixed licences” are now available for the most popular waste activities (such as transfer stations and compost activities).   Working plans or site specific risk assessments are no longer required.  The application form is simpler and licences are slightly cheaper and quicker to obtain, particularly if planning permission is already in place. Applications should be made locally in the same way as previously.

Fixed licences will not be subject to change. Variations in operations may require a bespoke licence, as at present.

Environment Agency, April 2006