How to find out and what to do if land is contaminated

This page explains how to find out and what to do if you suspect land may be contaminated.

If I suspect my land is contaminated what should I do?

If you suspect your land is contaminated, first contact your regional council [Local Government New Zealand website] for advice about what you should do.

Any investigation of your property should be carried out by an experienced contaminated land (or environmental) consultant. Your regional council may be able to recommend a consultant.

If an initial site investigation finds that the concentration of hazardous substances exceed acceptable levels, you may need or wish to remediate or manage your site. You should discuss the most appropriate action with your consultant and your regional council. 

How do I find out if my land is contaminated?

If you want to find out if your land is contaminated you should employ an experienced environmental consultant to determine whether the land needs to be investigated, managed or cleaned up. However, there are some initial things that you can do yourself:

Check for physical signs

Look for any physical signs commonly associated with contamination: including odours, stains, or the presence of storage tanks, or and structures (eg, sheep dipping trenches).

Check the current and historical land uses for HAIL list activities

One of the easiest starting places is to determine if your land has previously or is still undertaking one of the activities described in the HAIL list.

Obtain a LIM or a PIM

You can obtain information about your property by requesting a Land Information Memorandum (LIM) or a Project Information Memorandum (PIM) for your property from your local district or city council. When a LIM, or PIM is requested for a parcel of land the district or city council is required to disclose information on the land, including the “likely presence of hazardous contaminants”. A LIM or PIM may show whether your property is on a HAIL site (see question 2).

Please note: It is not a requirement for councils to show HAIL sites on a LIM or PIM. A LIM or PIM may not have all the relevant information about your site.

More information

Check the council’s property files and regional council registers

To gather more information from councils you should talk to someone within your local district or city council to see whether they have any further information about your property that is not included on the LIM or PIM. You should also contact your regional council or unitary authority, as regional councils usually will hold registers of contaminated and potentially contaminated land. 

Anecdotal evidence

Talking to previous owners, workers and neighbours is often the easiest way to determine the nature and location of historical activities on a site.

Old aerial photographs

Old aerial photographs can be used to identify structures often associated with historical activities and their location, eg, sheep dips, storage tanks and warehouses.

More specific advice on identifying former sheep dip sites is contained in the Ministry for the Environment guideline Identifying, investigating and managing risks associated with former sheep dip sites.

How do I find what an acceptable level of contamination is?

If you suspect your land is contaminated, you should employ a qualified contaminated land or environmental consultant to carry out a site investigation and determine the acceptable level of contamination.

To help practitioners determine the acceptable level of contaminants the Ministry has produced soil guideline values for common contaminants of concern, including:

  • arsenic
  • lead
  • DDT
  • cadmium

The document Toxicological intake values for priority contaminants in soil presents recommendations for toxicological intake values for 12 priority contaminants in soil. Toxicological intake values describe a concentration at which substances might pose no appreciable risk or minimal risk to human health.

Together with the Methodology for deriving soil guideline values protective of human health, the document serves as a technical reference in support of the National Environmental Standard for Assessing and Managing Contaminants in Soil to Protect Human Health and should be read in conjunction with it.

What do I do if my LIM says that my property is on a Hazardous Activities and Industries List (HAIL) site?

If your property is on a Hazardous Activities and Industries List (HAIL) site, it is not necessarily contaminated. The list shows land where activities or land uses have been carried out that may cause contaminated land. In addition, the HAIL activity may only have occupied a small part of the site.

You will need more information to determine whether your land is contaminated. To gather more information:

  • contact your local district or city council to see if they have any information on your site through your LIM or other means
  • contact your regional council or unitary authority to see if they have any information on your site
  • carry out a site investigation with help from your regional council and/or environmental consultant. 

Is there any money available to help me investigate or remediate contaminated land?

The Contaminated Sites Remediation Fund is administered by the Ministry for the Environment to assist regional councils to investigate, plan and remediate contaminated sites in their regions. A total of $2.78 million has been made available for 2010/11 and is divided into two parts.

One part is available to regional councils and unitary authorities on a contestable basis ($0.89 million). The second part is available to regional councils and unitary authorities to address priority sites ($1.89 million).
Sites that are prime candidates for the Contaminated Sites Remediation Fund are those that are:

  • posing or likely to pose a high risk to human health
  • located in environmentally or culturally sensitive areas
  • sites where the landowners do not have the financial resources to undertake the work themselves but want to do something about the problem.

If you would like to apply to the Contaminated Sites Remediation Fund contact your regional council, or email funds@mfe.govt.nz for more information. The regional council will assist you with your application, inform you of the information required and submit an application to the Ministry.

What guidance is available for managing contaminated land?

The Ministry has developed guidelines to assist and support council staff and practitioners manage contaminated land. If you suspect your land is contaminated, you should first contact your regional council about what you should do.

The contaminated land management guideline series provides best practice advice to councils and practitioners on identifying, investigating, recording and reporting contaminated land.

Guidelines that address contaminants from specific industries or activities contain soil guideline values for specific contaminants of concern.

Guidance on certain land uses which are often associated with contamination has also been produced.

As well as providing guidance on soil contaminants the Ministry has prepared guidance to assess the effects of hazardous substances on air, surface water and sediment:

How can land be prevented from being contaminated?

Substances with hazardous properties can contaminate land especially if they are not properly managed. 

Each hazardous substance, based on its hazardous properties, will have associated controls. These are determined by the Environmental Protection Authority [EPA website] when the substance is approved for import or manufacture, or when it is transferred to the HSNO control regime.

HSNO controls will apply at all stages in the manufacture, use and disposal of hazardous substances. Regulations cover:

  • packaging
  • disposal
  • tracking
  • personnel qualifications
  • emergency management
  • identification.
Reviewed:
15/05/15