Contaminated Land Explained

In legal terms, land is considered to be contaminated when it poses a threat to the health of people, animals or the environment due to it containing harmful substances. These could be either in the land itself, or underneath it. There are a number of things that can cause land to be contaminated, including, but not limited to:

  • Chemical substances
  • Radioactive substances
  • Heavy metals (arsenic, cadmium, lead etc)
  • Asbestos
  • Oils and tars

Occasionally, contaminated land is classed as a ‘special site’. These are particularly hazardous areas of land which may, for example, affect drinking water – in these cases there are technical guidelines from The Environment Agency which should be followed.

A local authority has the responsibility of assessing whether a particular site in their area is contaminated, and what threat it poses to any humans that have been living there. If you find that you have contaminated land, you should contact the Contaminated Land Office in your area.

If you are currently house hunting, it is always advisable to get an Environmental Search before you buy any property – as well as reporting on whether the land is contaminated the search will also advise you on flooding and ground stability. It is most likely that they won’t find anything, but if they do, you will be able to investigate further and talk to the local council about what to do next.

Mortgages for Contaminated Land

It can be difficult to get a mortgage for a property on contaminated land, certainly difficult enough for you to ask yourself; “Should I buy a house on contaminated land?”

While every mortgage provider is different, many will immediately reject any applications for property on land that has been deemed to be contaminated. Others may be willing to offer a mortgage, but on the condition that steps are being taken to decontaminate the land.

There are plenty of specialist lenders that may be willing to help provide a mortgage, but this is likely to be at a higher rate of interest than a conventional mortgage.

If you already own the property before you find out that the land is contaminated, you will find that it is very difficult to remortgage, and as a consequence, the resale value of the property will plummet.

Who is liable?

Ultimately the people liable for the contaminated land, according to the Environmental Protection Act, are the people that caused the contamination in the first place – the people responsible for the substances being on the land.

While that seems straightforward, unfortunately it rarely proves to be. Often, the contamination would have taken place decades, or even over a century ago, so tracking down the person responsible is practically impossible.

In these instances, the responsibility falls onto the shoulders of the current owner. This goes some way to explaining why it can be so difficult to get a mortgage – if a property owner defaults on their mortgage, the responsibility for the contaminated land falls onto the mortgage lenders.

Local authorities may be able to help in these situations, but that process is far from straightforward. It is often easier to find a private cleaning company to help you with these matters.

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How does land become contaminated?

There can be many reasons why a piece of land has become contaminated, and it usually points to something that the land was used for previously – these include:

  • Farms
  • Refinery
  • Factory
  • Landfill
  • Mine
  • Steel mill

These sorts of places can leave harmful bi-products in the land, such as metals and gases, which remain there undiscovered for years and years. Dating back as far as the Industrial Revolution, land all over Britain has been used for these kinds of purposes.

As our society has shifted away from industrial production, and as the need for new housing exploded in the mid-twentieth century, we are finding that more and more residential property has been found to be built on contaminated land.

Ideal Response Services

So, to answer the question “Should I buy a house on contaminated land?”, our advice is to tread carefully. Depending on the severity of the contamination, you may be able to resolve the problem with professional help.

If you have found yourself in this kind of situation, we might have the answers. Our Soil Contamination Cleanup service is perfect for spills, particularly oil spills.

We can be onsite within 2 hours of receiving your call, and we will quickly work to contain any spill, if there is any that needs immediate attention. We will then work on the decontamination process, and also as part of the service we offer soil sampling so that you will know what state the soil is in after our treatment.

If you would like the benefit of our experienced technicians, specialist equipment and industry leading technology, please get in touch with us today.

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