Management of contaminated land
- How is land contaminated?
- Sustainable Planning Act 2009
- Environmental Protection Act 1994
- The Environmental Management Register
- Contaminated Land Register
- How is land recorded on the registers?
- How is land removed from the registers?
- Local government responsibilities
- Owner responsibilities
- What are site management plans?
- Safeguards for land purchasers
How is land contaminated?
Land which is contaminated by hazardous chemical substances that may pose a risk to human health or the environment is called contaminated land. Land contamination can occur as a result of poor environmental management and waste disposal practices, or accidental spills in industrial or commercial activities. In the past, land was sometimes contaminated by activities that were not known to be harmful at the time, often using chemicals which have since been banned or now are subject to much stricter controls.
Activities that have been identified as likely to cause land contamination are listed as notifiable activities in Schedule 3 of the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (EP Act). Common land uses which may cause contamination include service stations, cattle dips, tanneries, wood treatment sites, landfills, fuel storages and refuse tips.
Another type of ‘contamination’ that may affect some areas of Queensland is unexploded ordnance (UXO). UXO is ammunition such as artillery shells, mortar bombs and grenades that did not explode when used. In Queensland, most UXO is found on former training areas and firing ranges used by Australian and allied defence forces, particularly during World War II. UXO may detonate if disturbed, causing a potential safety risk. The department implements specialised procedures for the assessment and management of UXO-affected land UXO is not considered to be a 'hazardous contaminant' and UXO-affected land is not considered to be 'contaminated land' or land that has been used for a 'notifiable activity' for the purposes of this page.
Sustainable Planning Act 2009
Through the Sustainable Planning Act (SPA), the land use planning process is used when there is a change of land use or when a subdivision application is made, to determine the public and environmental exposure to contaminated land and environmental harm. SPA, which is administered by the Department of State Development, Infrastructure and Planning (SDIP), provides a process to appropriately investigate the land (through a contaminated site investigation) using the process set out in the EP Act for contaminated land management, in accordance with the State Assessment Referral Agency (SARA) planning process that commenced on 1 July 2013.
Environmental Protection Act 1994
Contaminated land is managed through statutory processes leading to the prevention of unacceptable health and environmental risks through environmental management of potentially contaminating activities.
The department reviews contaminated site investigations and approves site management plans in addition to providing advice to the Department of State Development, Infrastructure and Planning (DSDIP), local government, industry and the community on legislative and technical requirements for contaminated land matters.
Under the EP Act, the department maintains two public registers that contain land use planning information—the Environmental Management Register (EMR) and the Contaminated Land Register (CLR).
The Environmental Management Register
Land that has been used or is being used for a notifiable activity and for which that information is provided to the department is recorded on the EMR. The EMR provides information on historical and current land uses, including whether the land has been or is currently used for a notifiable activity, or has been contaminated by a hazardous contaminant. Sites listed on the EMR in most circumstances pose a 'low risk' to human health or the environment under their current land use. Entry on the EMR does not mean that the land must be cleaned up or that the current land use must stop.
Contaminated Land Register
This is a register of proven contaminated land ('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 that action needs to be taken to remediate or manage the land (for example, technical measures to prevent migration of contaminants or full removal and off-site treatment) to prevent serious environmental harm or other adverse public health risks.
Under the Sustainable Planning Act 2009, when a development application is made for a material change of use or reconfiguration of a lot recorded on the EMR or CLR, a site investigation and, where necessary, remediation are required.
How is land recorded on the registers?
Landowners and occupiers have responsibilities under the EP Act to notify the department when they become aware that their land has been or is being used for a notifiable activity or contaminated by a hazardous contaminant. When a landowner notifies the department that the land has been used for a notifiable activity, the land is recorded on the EMR.
Local governments also notify the department of land in their local government area that has been used for a notifiable activity or has been contaminated by a hazardous contaminant. Before land is entered on the EMR, the department informs the landowners of the notification. The landowners may make a submission to the department about the notification if they believe the information to be incorrect the department decides whether or not to record the land on the EMR.
The department issues written notices to landowners and local governments advising them when the land is recorded on the EMR.
How is land removed from the registers?
Land will be removed from the EMR if, at any time, the landowner or local government provides evidence to the department that no notifiable activity has occurred on the site, or that the land has not been contaminated.
If the department is satisfied that the land is not contaminated, the land is removed from the EMR.
Land is also removed from the CLR after work has been done to remediate the land and a site investigation report satisfies the department that the land no longer poses a risk to the environment or public health. In addition, land can be transferred from the CLR to the EMR where there is a site management plan for the land to manage the contamination so it no longer causes environmental harm or poses a risk to human health.
Local government responsibilities
Local governments have obligations under the EP Act relating to the identification, notification and management of contaminated land. Under the EP Act, all local governments in Queensland are required to notify the department of land that has been or is currently used for a notifiable activity within their local government area. This information is gathered by local governments through sources such as historical information, local knowledge and town planning records.
Landowners are required under the EP Act to inform the department of any known 'notifiable activity' on their property.
The owner is also required to inform any occupier, such as persons who are renting, managing or leasing the land, if the property:
- is listed on the CLR
- is the subject of a notice under Chapter 7, Part 8 of the EP Act.
Anyone selling or otherwise disposing of land that is listed on either of the registers is required to give written notice of the land's listing to any potential purchaser before agreeing to dispose of the land.
- is listed on the CLR
- is listed on the EMR and subject to the conditions of any site management plan; or
- is the subject of a notice under Chapter 7, Part 8 of the EP Act.
What are site management plans?
In some cases, (e.g. land used for industrial purposes or park land), it is not necessary or practical to remove the entire contaminated area. The land can be partly remediated, and the department can approve a site management plan which states the conditions under which the site can be used while preventing the contamination from causing environmental harm or posing a risk to human health.
Site management plans are recorded on the EMR and are provided with any related search of the registers. Information on whether land is recorded on the EMR or CLR can be obtained by a search of those registers.
Safeguards for land purchasers
The EP Act requires anyone selling or otherwise disposing of land that is recorded on the EMR or CLR to give written notice to the prospective purchaser of the recording and particulars of any current or outstanding notices given under the EP Act in relation to the land. This is an important provision, ensuring that potential buyers of land listed on the EMR or CLR can allow for any costs associated with assessment and possible remediation before purchase.
Both the EMR and CLR are public registers and can be searched for a fee.
Forms and fees
Forms associated with submissions to the department on matters under Chapter 7, Part 8 of the EP Act are available from Permit and Licence Management (PALM).
Fees associated with submissions under the EP Act are listed in Schedule 10 Part 4 of the Environmental Protection Regulation 2008 lists the fees payable for consideration of a site investigation report (payable in Australian dollars).
Relevant guidelines and information sheets are available to further explain matters under Chapter 7, Part 8 of the EP Act.