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Mediate to remediate The award of the UK's first mobile plant licence for a bioremediation process marks a big step forward in brownfield redevelopment, says Alistair Kean.

More than two years of battling with bureaucracy paid off for Bio-Logic Remediation of Glasgow last month when it received its long awaited mobile plant licence. This allows the company to operate ex-situ bioremediation projects throughout the country with the only additional requirement being the approval of a method statement by the local Environment Agency or Scottish Environment Protection Agency office.

This is of great importance. Until now agency officers following the letter of the law have been able to insist that all on site remediation processes are subject to full waste management licensing, originally designed for landfills. It should be explained that to a property developer a waste management licence is about as appealing as a nuclear tip as it carries long term monitoring implications and could blight the redevelopment as a perceived landfill site.

In the past there were only two options for a developer wanting to save money and implement a sustainable strategy on a site by avoiding landfill and using an on site treatment for polluted soils. One was to bite the bullet, apply for a full waste management licence - which could take six months - and deal with the long term implications later. The other was to try and register an exemption from waste management licensing using one of several categories in the 1994 Waste Management Regulations.

None of these exemptions were designed for on-site remediation and it was often the subject of lengthy argument between Environment Agency staff and enthusiastic remediators as to whether the wording of a particular exemption could be twisted far enough to fit a process. Various entertaining arguments inevitably ensued, including the old 'surely it's the oil in the soil, not the soil which is the waste' chestnut.

Interpretation of the exemptions varied from one region to another and while treating 30,000m3 of highly polluted soils might be approved as exempt in Ipswich, 3,000m3 of slightly contaminated crushed brick could be the subject of protracted negotiations in Liverpool.

Clearly some form of licensing of new technologies was appropriate; the problem was to find some way of achieving this without the need for parliamentary legislation with an inevitable lengthy wait.

In spring this year the Environment Agency prevented Bio-Logic from undertaking a major project due to this dilemma. A lobbying campaign was swiftly put into action with a lot of help from the Environmental Industries Commission. Ultimately the problem was brought to the attention of Michael Meacher, Secretary of State for the Environment. Without intervention the home grown remediation industry was going to collapse, leaving the way open for foreign competitors once a solution

was finally found. Given Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott's commitment to brownfield redevelopment and the Department of Trade & Industry's support for on site remediation, something had to give.

Meacher finally met the Environment Agency and the Department of the Environment Transport and the Regions policy makers and it was agreed that the scope of mobile plant licensing policy should be expanded to cover bioremediation and other on-site remediation processes. These licences already existed for various processes such as rock crushing but there was no precedent for on-site bioremediation.

The beauty of the mobile plant licensing system is that once the remediation process is complete, providing the soil is treated so as to be fit for use with no other special environmental controls, no other licence is required to return the soil to the site and the developer can pass it on without concern about blight.

Bio-Logic applied to the local Scottish Environment Protection Agency office immediately and after a four month consultation period received the first such licence for bioremediation. One licence is required for each project but they can be passed on to the next on completion. Now the only licensing delay is a very reasonable three week consultation period during which the local Environment Agency or Scottish Environment Protection Agency office can consider a site specific working plan.

As a result of all of this, the UK remediation industry has taken an important step forward in terms of both market acceptance and maturity. The award of a mobile plant licence, while not an endorsement of a particular process, at least shows that a company has adequate experience and environmental controls to be working on a polluted site. This is important in an industry with a bewildering array of technologies and companies.

The story shows the importance of having a strong industry organisation representing the environmental sector. The Environmental Industries Commission has been extremely helpful and membership is recommended to all companies involved in the emerging environmental sector, both consultants and contractors.

Alistair Kean is technical director of Bio-Logic Remediation

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