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    Processes and Agents of Change
      Waste Management and Contamination

        Potential sources of land contamination

        Site contamination is an important environmental issue. It can result from such land uses as refuse disposal (see solid waste and hazardous waste), timber preservation plants, service stations, petroleum storage areas, chemical manufacturing industries and gas works. A list of the industrial activities that have a higher probability of contaminating land is available from the DPIWE web site.

        The potential damage to an ecosystem or to a community's health can be significant and the financial costs of cleaning up the site can be high. The issue of contaminated land was highlighted at Lutana in Hobart, where soil had been contaminated by particles of cadmium, lead and zinc blown from the nearby zinc refinery.

        Contamination commonly becomes a problem when a contaminated site is rezoned or redeveloped. The change of land use results in new exposure pathways being established that can, in some circumstances, adversely affect public and occupational health as well as the environment. A typical example is the rezoning of a contaminated site from an industrial to a residential zone.

        The number of suspected but not confirmed contaminated sites in Tasmania is unknown, but is likely to be in the order of many hundreds. As an indication of the potential scale of the problem, the previous SoE Report noted that in 1995, there were about 1600 underground storage tanks containing either petrol, distillate or aviation fuel in Tasmania. Most of these tanks are at petrol stations. In 1991 a survey in Perth (Western Australia) found that about 20% of underground petrol or diesel tanks at petrol stations were leaking (Barber et al. 1991). In the USA, 25-30% of underground tanks leaked (Barber 1991). No similar survey has been made in Tasmania, but it is likely the numbers would be similar. In conjunction with the numerous types of other activities that can, potentially, contaminate a site, the total number of potentially contaminated sites in Tasmania (i.e. suspected but not confirmed to be contaminated) is in the order of many hundreds.

        Some indications of the scale of the problem are also available from other sections in this Report (see Hazardous Waste and Solid Waste Issue Reports). Landfill sites are a potentially significant cause of site contamination. It is also known that DPIWE is receiving an increasing number of reports and queries from potential developers looking at commercial and industrial sites that may contain contamination. This interest may be as a result of the recent growth in the property market.

        The number of known contaminated sites in Tasmania was 81 in May 1995. In 2003, the number of known contaminated sites is 67. It is difficult to say whether the drop in site numbers relates to any real factor, or whether it is a random fluctuation in numbers. The reduction in the number of sites could relate to the rehabilitation and finalisation of sites since the last figures were prepared for the previous SoE Report in 1997. However, some of the finalised sites will be suitable only for commercial or industrial use, so they will not be completely clear of contamination. Alternatively, the reduction may relate to a greater awareness of the impact of contamination, or the financial consequences of having contaminated land and the associated liabilities. People may be taking action to remediate contaminated land when it occurs.

        While it has not been possible to provide a more detailed assessment of the contaminated sites problem, the 1997 recommendation has been updated to reflect developments in contaminated sites management and is included with this report (see Contaminated Sites 2003 recommendation).

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        Last Modified: 14 Dec 2006
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