Danish court rules on contaminated land law

Land owners not responsible for costs of investigating old contamination; minister to amend law

Danish landowners cannot be made to pay for tests to determine whether environmental contamination on their land poses environmental risks, the country's supreme court has ruled. The decisions is likely to prompt a change in the country's contaminated sites law. The case concerned two Shell petrol stations that were suspected to have polluted groundwater. In 1993, the Jutland regional government ordered an investigation of the sites - at a combined cost to the owners of DKr200,000 (euros 27,000) - under a law on contaminated sites passed the previous year, although it acknowledged that the sites were no longer being polluted. Shell contested the order, arguing that while owners were liable for remediation costs of any pollution they caused, the law did not oblige current owners to pay for tests if the pollution source had been removed before the law's entry into force. The Danish environmental protection agency and high court upheld the order until the supreme court decided on Monday in favour of the station owners. The decision will force various authorities to reconsider around 150 similar contested cases brought since 1992, according to Vivi Bruhn-Knudsen, who represented Shell in court. More importantly, she said, it would force environment minister Svend Auken to change the law after he promised last month to rewrite it according to the court's decision. The law was amended last month to introduce strict liability for owners of contaminated land (ENDS Daily 1 June).

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