Contamination and Real estate risk

Recent revelations regarding the Sugar Cube apartment development at Erskineville in Sydney regarding toxic contamination which may not have been correctly remediated by the developer have caused major concerns regarding contaminated land and real estate. In this case the City of Sydney is refusing to let apartment owners move in due to concerns the land has not been remediated fully to remove the contamination present. Unfortunately properties and land in the older areas of many cities come with long histories of industrial, manufacturing or other activities such as dry cleaners and petrol stations which often results in quite serious land contamination. These potentially contaminating activities can result in soil and groundwater contamination. In this case the apartments have been built at the old Ashmore industrial estate In Erskineville. Such areas, where former industrial activities have been undertaken often result in high levels of contamination. In this case it has been reported that the former manufacturing has left behind heavy metals, hydrocarbons, asbestos along with contaminated groundwater. The City of Sydney is requesting further testing to be undertaken and in this case there is potential for further remedial actions to be required.

Many people are unaware of the risks from contamination. Botany Sands Aquifer, which occurs under much of Sydney, and which once supplied some of Sydneys drinking water in it early days is now unsuitable for drinking due to past contaminating activities. The aquifer has been contaminated with chlorinated hydrocarbons and other solvents, petroleum hydrocarbons including petrol and diesel, and some heavy metals such as chromium, nickel, lead, and arsenic. The source of this contamination came from historical industries before there were any environmental controls. Contamination in this aquifer came from tanneries, metal platers, service stations and fuel depots, landfills, dry cleaners and wool scourers. The major risks to developers redeveloping former industrial lands can be from both soil and groundwater contamination. In many areas the former use may have contaminated the soil however even sites with no former obvious potentially contaminating activities can have contamination present. This contamination has often has been brought to these sites as “fill” historically to level the ground for concrete slabs and foundations. Furnace Slag along with a range of materials such as asbestos are often found in such areas due to the presence of historical fill. Contamination can also migrate from adjoining sites through soil and groundwater.

In New South Wales, State Environmental Planning Policy 55, SEPP55 along with the NSW EPA guidelines for contaminated lands governs contaminated sites and assessments. Due Diligence in relation to Real Estate purchasing is prudent even if there are no historical signs of contamination. Councils upon submission of a Development Application generally request a SEPP55 Preliminary Site Investigation (also called a Stage 1 or Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment). This can be the first time and landowner even thinks of potential contamination on their property. As a find of contamination can result in very expensive remediation it is better to undertake a SEPP 55 Preliminary Site Investigation before purchase of the property. Such assessments have been common practice in North America for at least the past 30 years and are becoming more common in Australia. As obtaining a “clean” contamination report is linked to obtaining finance overseas they are very commonplace much like the requirement for a building inspection.
In the future they will become more commonplace in Australia.

If you are requiring a Due Diligence Contamination Assessment or a SEPP 55 Preliminary Site Investigation or a Detailed Site Investigation please give us a call on 1300 302 507.