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Soil condition inventory
At the end of 2012, the soil condition inventory contained 11,098 validated sites, 82% of which were potentially polluted plots of land (categories 0 and 0+). Another 4,244 sites still needed to be validated and registered in the inventory. Storage depots for flammable liquids, vehicle maintenance workshops, spray booths, printing works and metal production account for 94% of the activities that qualify for an entry in the soil condition inventory.
The soil condition inventory: objective and contents
In the highly urbanised and at one time heavily industrialised territory of Brussels, there were – and still are – activities that cause soil and/or groundwater pollution. This pollution poses a risk/hazard to public health (e.g. by affecting the water supply through the infiltration of pollutants into watercourses or aquifers, degrading land used for food production or playgrounds, etc.) and to ecosystems.
For several years now, Brussels Environment has been engaged in creating an inventory of potentially polluted soils. This inventory was drawn up from information on present and past activities taking place on these sites and considered to be “hazardous activities ” (i.e. for which odds are that they polluted the underlying soils). The main purposes of the inventory are:
- to identify and, if necessary, treat the contaminated sites or take risk management measures (including restrictions on use) to enable them to be used for other purposes;
- to reduce legal uncertainty in connection with real estate transactions and increase the development of new economic activities by informing in advance the persons involved, i.e. before they are faced with any remediation or risk management obligations associated with soil and/or groundwater pollution;
- for governmental decision-making on land use, to take into account the quality of the soil.
The ordinance of 5 March 2009 on the management and remediation of contaminated soils (which supersedes an ordinance of 2004) distinguishes five soil condition categories for the sites that are included in the soil condition inventory:
- Category 0: potentially contaminated sites, i.e. plots where soil contamination is suspected, including plots where a risk activity has been carried out;
- Category 1: sites that meet the decontamination standards after soil testing (risk considered to be non-existent);
- Category 2: sites that meet the intervention standards after soil testing but not the decontamination standards (risk considered to be negligible);
- Category 3: sites that do not meet the intervention standards after soil testing and where the risks are (or have been made) acceptable according to a risk investigation that followed the soil survey and imposed restrictions on use and/or follow-up measures);
- Category 4: sites that do not meet the intervention standards and need treatment or are currently under treatment, i.e. plots that are currently being tested, or where decontamination is being carried out, or risk management measures are being implemented (risk considered to be non-negligible).
In practice, there is an additional category 0+ for plots that have already undergone soil testing or treatment but where new contamination concerns turned up in the meantime.
The initial draft inventory contained 20,170 plots of land from the cadastral register (out of a total of 220,000), which covered a surface equivalent to approximately 20% of the regional territory (in the case of a site considered to be contaminated, the pollution may only concern a small part of the site: see fact sheet Information resources: soil condition inventory).
Validation/Ratification of the soil condition inventory
During a previous validation phase (2007-2009) 2,580 sites were confirmed and included in the soil inventory. The condition of the remaining 17,590 sites has to be verified between January 2011 and December 2013. The idea of this verification, which began on 1 January 2011, was to give all owners and operators of potentially contaminated (category 0), uncontaminated (categories 1 and 2) and contaminated (categories 3 and 4) sites – about 40,000 people in total – the detailed information that Brussels Environment holds on the subject. The parties concerned may dispute this information on the basis of data supported by documents that give detailed information about the activities that took place on the sites, or by means of an exploratory soil survey.
By the end of 2012, 15,926 sites were validated: for 11,098 of them the process was carried out in accordance with the procedure of the new soil ordinance. The associated decisions were communicated to more than 22.000 owners and operators. This left 4,244 sites that still needed to be verified and registered in the inventory.
Among the validated sites, storage depots for flammable liquids, vehicle maintenance workshops, spray booths, printing works and metal production account for 94% of the activities that qualify for an entry in the soil condition inventory. The contamination may be caused for example by accidents, overflows from tanks or corrosion of the latter (fuel oil, solvents, etc.) non-leak-proof storage, site level-raising or other earthworks using unchecked materials, the dumping and treatment of waste, outflows of pollutants or precipitation of contaminated dust onto bare soil from production machines.
Soil condition inventory: breakdown of the 11,098 validated sites according to the “hazardous activities” that led to their inclusion in the inventory (31 December 2012)
Source: Brussels Environment, Soils Sub-Department, 2013
The 11,098 so far validated sites are divided into several categories, by far the most common being categories 0 and 0+ (see above), accounting for 82%.
Soil condition inventory: breakdown of the 11,098 validated sites (31 December 2012) by category
Source: Brussels Environment, Soils Sub-Department, 2013
Soil condition map
The validated data from the inventory have been used to prepare a soil condition map. At the end of 2013, this interactive map was put online by Brussels Environment to ensure rapid access to information on the soil quality of Brussels sites. The information on the map, which is continuously updated, is purely indicative: these data do not replace soil certificates.
In certain situations, in particular the sale of a home or plot of land or of a company with a hazardous activity, the seller must present a soil certificate – issued by Brussels Environment – which indicates whether or not the site is listed in the inventory and, if so, the detailed information that is recorded about this site. For sites that are listed in the inventory, the Soil Ordinance requires that the seller of a plot of land or company with a hazardous activity must carry out an exploratory survey and assume any liabilities arising from any identified soil contamination that exceeds the standards (see fact sheet Identification and treatment of contaminated soils).
Between 2005 and December 2012, a total of 139,698 soil certificates were issued. A total of 1,609,060 euros was collected in fees for these certificates, for which payment has been required since 1 November 2010.
- Brussels-Capital Region 2009. “Decree of the Brussels-Capital Region of 17 December 2009 establishing the list of risk activities”, Belgian Official Gazette 17/12/2009.
- Ministry of the BCR 2009 “Ordinance of 5 March 2009 on the management and remediation of contaminated soils”, Belgian Official Gazette 10/03/2009.