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Releases of these materials may be the result of historic or current site activities, including accidents during their handling and storage, or due to poor management or disposal. Land is considered contaminated when it contains hazardous materials concentrations, including oil, above baseline and/or naturally occurring levels.

Contaminated lands may involve topsoils or subsurface soils that, through leaching and transport, may affect groundwater, surface water, and adjacent sites. Where subsurface contaminant sources include volatile substances, soil vapor may also create potential for contamination through infiltration of indoor air spaces of buildings.

Land contamination is a concern when hazardous materials, waste, or oil are present in any environment at potentially hazardous concentrations and the potential for contact with humans, wildlife, plants, and other living organisms exists. This may occur when a contaminant migrates from its point of release (e.g., leaching into potable groundwater) and humans or other living organisms are exposed to it (e.g., through ingestion or skin absorption). This has potential risks to human health(e.g., risk of cancer) and ecology and represents a liability to the polluter/business owners (e.g., cost of remediation, damage of business reputation and/or business-community relations) or affected parties (e.g., workers at the site and nearby property owners).

Land contamination should be avoided by preventing or controlling the release of hazardous materials, hazardous wastes, or oil to the environment. When contamination of land is suspected or confirmed during any project phase, the cause of the uncontrolled release should be identified and corrected to avoid further releases and associated adverse impacts. Contaminated lands should be managed to avoid the risk to human health and ecological receptors. This requires cleanup to reduce the level of contamination at the site while preventing human exposure.

In cases of land contamination representing an immediate risk to human health and the environment, appropriate risk reduction should be implemented as soon as practicable to remove the imminent hazard. Risk mitigation strategies should be developed based on site-specific conditions and target contaminant source reduction, taking into consideration technical and financial feasibility. To protect human health, access to a contaminated site should be limited or prevented, for example through signage, fencing, or site security. This may also require capping contaminated soil with clean soil to prevent human contact, introducing certain plants into contaminated soils or paving them over as an temporary measure to prevent direct contact.

A client’s/investee’s operations should implement the necessary measures to prevent releases of hazardous materials, waste, or oil to the ground. A financial institution can help a client/investee to identify environmental business opportunities.

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