UK failing to gear up for European land clean-up

The UK will miss out on the business opportunities which are emerging across Europe in the remediation of contaminated land because its domestic policy has failed to stimulate markets for new technologies, a report from the Centre for Exploitation of Science and Technology (CEST) has warned.1 It recommends the establishment of an industry-led forum to break down the barriers facing novel clean-up methods.

The report assesses how UK businesses could take advantage of a potential EC land clean-up market likely to be worth £14-28 billion between 1992-2000. Sizeable opportunities are also emerging in eastern Europe. In the UK alone, there may be at least 50,000-100,000 contaminated sites, and cleaning these up could cost £10-30 billion (ENDS Report 201, pp 4-5).

CEST restates what has been common currency in the UK's clean-up business for many years. Engineering methods such as landfilling, capping and encapsulation "delay or transfer a potential threat of further contamination for someone else at another time and place, rather than solving it permanently." Conversely, techniques such as bioremediation, vitrification, vacuum extraction, soil washing and incineration "effectively recycle the land or immobilise or destroy contaminating species and thus form the basis of minimising future environmental and public health and safety risks."

Novel technologies are being used increasingly in parts of mainland Europe and the USA. Some 41% of recent clean-ups in the Netherlands have employed these techniques.

In the UK, however, the lack of official clean-up targets and guidance, especially for in situ methods, is restricting demand for alternatives to landfill and encapsulation. Low landfill costs are another factor. Poor assessment practices which fail to pin-point precisely the contaminated areas of a site are also discouraging the introduction of treatment methods which could deal with the truly contaminated smaller volumes of soil in a cost-effective way.

CEST recommends that an industry forum, possibly initiated by the Advisory Committee on Business and the Environment, could help to overcome the barriers to uptake of alternative technologies. Its remit would be to generate market development strategies and input into emerging legislation.

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