Communicating understanding of contaminated land risks Guidance

May 2010


In common with many other countries, the UK has a legacy of land contamination arising from industrial development and related operational practices. Much of this contamination has been present for long periods of time and it does not always pose problems. However, it will be of concern where an unacceptable risk – to human health or the environment – exists because of the presence of the contamination for the existing use of the land, or when there are plans to use the land for a new purpose (e.g. to re-develop a former industrial site for housing). There are also likely to be perceived concerns when the risks from any existing contamination have not been fully evaluated and communicated.

There is legislation in place within the UK which is designed to ensure that unacceptable risks from land contamination are identified and appropriately managed. Contamination can take several forms (i.e. chemical, biological, radioactive, gaseous), and can be brought about in a number of different ways. This means that land contamination can occur in a variety of places from inner cities to rural locations. Contamination occurs as a result of human activity. However, hazardous substances or properties may also occur naturally due to the geology of the area or natural processes (e.g. biodegradation of organic matter producing methane and carbon dioxide). The presence of contamination has the potential to affect people‟s health, livelihoods and financial situation. Therefore, the risks from contamination need to be managed appropriately and communicated effectively. Those involved with the process of investigating, assessing and managing land contamination need to consider carefully how they will respond to public and stakeholder concerns, anxieties and expectations that may arise.

Communicating about land contamination and proposed remediation solutions is exceedingly complex and often emotionally charged because of the potentially serious implications of the problem, the diverse range of people involved and competing priorities.

Effective risk communication is not just about convincing people about what you perceive as the’real risk’ following a technical risk assessment, but must be based on an understanding that people will have different perceptions of the risk as a result of their own situation and values.

What this Guidance Does

This guidance document is designed to assist those communicating with the public and other stakeholders about land contamination risks. It includes:

This guidance will assist the user in developing a robust communication strategy that addresses the multitude of complexities inherent in communicating about land contamination and the associated risks.

As the issues and risks posed by land contamination vary so widely, this guidance document does not present definitive risk communication solutions. Nor does it include advice on evaluating land contamination to determine the risks to health or the wider environment. References are provided at the end of this document that point to general sources of guidance on these topics.

Copies of this report are available from the Foundation, in electronic format on CDRom at £20.00 + VAT or hard copy at £25.00, less 20% to FWR members


N.B. The report is available for download from the SNIFFER Website.
The SNIFFER Risk Communication booklet, designed to be a convenient and easy-to-use reference that complements this Guidance, is also available for download from the Website.