France begins contaminated land search

Environment minister launches five-year study of potentially contaminated industrial sites

French environment minister Dominique Voynet yesterday announced new research into land contamination, focusing on some 1,500 industrial sites where potentially contaminating activities are carried out.

The five-year programme is part of a new preventive approach, Dr Voynet said, aimed at identifying contaminated sites that have so far escaped the notice of the authorities. She added that the national inventory of contaminated sites only lists those sites that have been officially identified by department prefects and the ministry's regional offices for industry, research and environment (DRIRE).

Under the new programme, prefects will select industrial facilities where potentially contaminating activities are carried out. The facilities will be required to conduct initial assessments. Soil samples will then be taken and tested to provide further information. If the studies reveal contamination, in-depth risk assessment and remediation plans will be launched.

The 1996 national contaminated sites inventory was also released yesterday. It lists a total of 896 former industrial sites and is the third to be published after those in 1992 and 1994. Since the 1994 inventory, 123 sites have been treated but 266 new sites have been identified. The latest list shows that the worst affected regions are Nord Pas-de-Calais (15.6% of the total), Rhône-Alpes (12.7%) and Ile-de-France (12.1%).

It also shows that the main types of activities responsible are the ferrous metal industry (19.5% of cases), the chemical and pharmaceutical industry (16.9%) and waste treatment and disposal (15.6%). Oil accounts for 49% of the pollutants identified, followed by lead (20%) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) (19%).

The 1996 inventory shows that former site owners or operators are insolvent or unidentifiable at 174 sites - nearly a fifth of the total. The proportion is up 5% since 1994. A tax on hazardous industrial waste was introduced in 1995 to provide funding to clean up these "orphan" sites.

The French Institute for the Environment (IFEN), puts the potential total number of contaminated sites in France at around 200,000 - far higher than the number so far identified and higher than estimates for Germany (139,000) and the Netherlands (110,000).

Dr Voynet described French contaminated land policy as being "in its infancy". She told a press conference yesterday that she intended to step up action by making it easier to identify those responsible for site contamination, ensuring that the administrative procedures are properly implemented and putting the emphasis on prevention.

Follow Up:
French environment ministry, tel: +33 1 42 19 20 21.

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