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TALKING POINT

New legislation on disposal of hazardous waste comes into force this month. Adrian Needham explains the effects on the industry.

From this month the contaminated land market will feel the effects of the EU Landfill Directive with implementation of the Landfill (England & Wales) Regulations 2002.

Disposal of contaminated soils classified as hazardous will have to go to one of the few hazardous waste sites in England (there are none planned for Wales or Scotland).

Of the 200 sites, only eight meet requirements, and only about three have suitable permits.Continuing shortage of space in hazardous waste landfills should be anticipated.Not only will costs for disposing of hazardous contaminated soil rise sharply, haulage distances and rates will increase, waste soil will have to be pre-treated and there will be extra laboratory analyses to demonstrate that acceptance criteria are met.Costs for non-hazardous contaminated soil will also increase, but less dramatically.

The days of landfill disposal as the default low cost option for contaminated soils are clearly numbered.

Most predict it will become only one option among a range of on-site treatment technologies or regional soil treatment centres.

Treatment may be used before disposal to meet landfill Waste Acceptance Criteria, to be implemented in July 2005, or to enable reuse.Pre-treatment of hazardous wastes is required from this month.For non-hazardous soils, the implementation date has yet to be set but is unlikely to be before 2006.

Waste classification and landfill acceptance procedures for contaminated soils require clarification from the Environment Agency.Integration into a single document is needed for the often confusing array of guidance set out in the EA publications WM2, Regulatory Guidance Notes (RGNs) 2 and 18 (in preparation), final pre-treatment guidance (still awaited) and Sampling and Testing of Wastes (STWAP).

Comprehensive site investigations and correct classification of contaminated soils as hazardous or non-hazardous (in accordance with the EA WM2 procedures) have become more important, to avoid incorrect assignment of contaminated soils as hazardous waste, with the resulting cost penalties.

More thorough site investigations will enable tighter zoning of contaminated areas, and provide more information on the contaminants, speciation and toxicity.Detailed quantitative risk assessments (DQRAs) for both human health and groundwater quality, based on information from investigations, should often enable a substantial reduction of contaminated soil quantities designated as requiring treatment or removal.

The EA's increasing range of CLEA toxicological reports will help.Geoenvironmental engineers will need to convince clients of the benefits and reduced financial exposure of that more exhaustive site investigations offer and, where appropriate, DQRAs.

Savings in remediation costs should easily outweigh the increased investigation and risk assessment costs at a project's early stages.

Treatment regulation will change from the mobile plant licence system to the Environmental Permit regime, due to come into effect around the end of 2004.

In contrast, contaminated soil sent to landfill will effectively be regulated by the landfill operators, who should require details of chemical analyses to support the waste classification and to demonstrate compliance with the Waste Acceptance Criteria.

The new regulations will achieve the desired effect of curtailing the volume of waste sent to landfill.

However, the costs of brownfield remediation will inevitably increase, particularly at sites with hazardous materials.Remediation of many commercially marginal sites may be mothballed without the benefit of direct grants or other financial support.

For those owning, developing, assessing or remediating contaminated land in the UK, these are interesting times.There are significant challenges but there are also great opportunities both for those seeking to turn brownfield land to beneficial use and for specialists able to deliver commercially sound and technically robust solutions.

Adrian Needham is technical director at Edge Consultants UK.

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