Ecology | Environment | Heritage

Contaminated Lands Explained

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19 October 2016

The thorny issue of potential or actual contaminated lands can be a risk to your project. But it need not be a project killer so long as it is addressed through scientific investigation.

What is Contamination?

Schedule 4 of the Queensland Environmental Protection Act defines contaminated land as being land contaminated by a hazardous substance that may pose a risk to human health or the environment. For example, arsenic, dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT) or oil. Contamination could have occurred for many reasons, including accidental spills, poor waste disposal practices or poor environmental management practices in industrial or commercial activities. These incidents are generally historical and where mainly due to practices that weren’t deemed as dangerous at the time. Contaminated land is managed in Queensland under a range of documents including the:

  • Environmental Protection Act 1994 (EP Act)
  • National Environmental Protection (Assessment of Site Contamination) Measure 1999
  • Guidelines for the Assessment of On-Site Containment of Contaminated Soil (National Containment Guidelines) (ANZECC 1999)
  • Health Screening Levels for Petroleum Hydrocarbons in Soil and Groundwater (CRC CARE Health Screening Levels) (Friebel and Nadebaum 2011)
  • Canada-wide standard for petroleum hydrocarbons (PHC) in soil (CCM E 2008) Contaminated Land
  • Guidelines for the Assessment, Remediation and Management of Asbestos-
  • Contaminated Sites in Western Australia (WA Asbestos Guidelines) (DoH and DEC 2009).
  • ASC NEPM Schedules B1 and B2 (1999),
  • DEHP Queensland Auditor Handbook for Contaminated Land Schedule 5 (September 2015); and
  • NSW EPA Technical Note: Investigation of Service Station Sites.

Land development and development approvals in Queensland are coordinated under the Sustainable Planning Act 2009 (SPA) by an assessment manager (usually the relevant local government) with referral agencies assessing applications against the requirements of legislation and planning schemes.

Who is responsible for Contaminated Lands? 

The Department of Environment & Heritage Protection (DEHP) keeps two important registers which keep all lands that have in accordance with the legislation been deemed as Contaminated Land. These two registers are the Environmental Management Register and the Contaminated Land Register.

Environmental Management Register

The Environmental Management Register (EMR) is a land use planning and management register. Land that has been or is being used for a notifiable activity is recorded on the EM R by the QLD Department of Environment and Heritage Protection. The EMR provides information on current and historical land use, including whether the land has been or is currently used for a notifiable activity, or has been contaminated by a hazardous contaminant. These sites are considered 'low risk' to human health or the environment under the current land use.  Entry on the EMR does not mean that the land must be cleaned up or that the current land use must cease. However, it is possible that they may pose a risk to human health and/or the environment if the land use of these sites w ere to change. Hence, the appropriate investigation and, if necessary, remediation will be required to be undertaken before any change in land use takes place.

Contaminated Land Register

The Contaminated Land Register (CLR) is a register of proven contaminated land (considered 'risk sites'), that is causing or may cause serious environmental harm. Land is recorded on the CLR when a scientific investigation shows that the land is contaminated and action needs to be taken to remediate or manage the land to prevent serious environmental harm or adverse public health risks. Actions could include: technical measures to prevent the migration of contaminants full removal of contaminants and off-site treatment to prevent serious or material environmental harm or public health risks.

QLD Contaminated Land Search

You can request through the Department of Environment & Heritage Protection (DEHP) for a contaminated land search.

Compliance permit for Development Applications on land listed on the EMR

A compliance permit is required when:

  • you want to change the use of land which is listed on the contaminated land register or the environmental management register; and
  • the land is not currently being used for a sensitive land use; and
  • the change is a material change of use, completely or partly for:
    • a sensitive land use; or
    • a commercial purpose involving an accessible underground facility, including, for example, a basement car park, workshop or office.

A sensitive land use is any of the following: caretakers accommodation; child care centre; community care centre; community residence; detention facility; dual occupancy; dwelling house; dwelling unit; educational establishment; health care services; hospital; hotel; multiple dwelling; non-resident workforce accommodation; relocatable home park; residential care facility; resort complex; retirement facility; rooming accommodation; rural workers accommodation; short-term accommodation; tourist park.

A Commercial purpose is a broad term which generally refers to the selling of goods or services.

We can help you

Redleaf has suitably qualified environmental scientists who can take you through this process so that you know what you are dealing with and how to minimise your risks when either buying or selling sites with suspected contamination.

Contact Tami Mills, Senior Environmental Scientist and Contaminated Lands specialist, for further information: or 0407 615 822

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