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How to Test for Agricultural Land Contamination

While agricultural sites may have never had any past industrial uses, there is still a range of potential sources of contamination such as pesticides, hydrocarbons and asbestos. This means that farm sites should be treated in the same way as industrial sites, from a risk assessment perspective, and so contaminated land investigations are required to deal with any potential contamination.

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How to Manage Contaminated Agricultural Land

If you own agricultural land that you intend to build on or sell and you suspect it may be contaminated, there is a straightforward process to test or manage the potentially contaminated agricultural land. Managing potentially contaminated agricultural land will involve a phased approached that includes a Phase 1 Preliminary Risk Assessment that may lead to a more detailed Phase 2 Intrusive Site Investigation, in order to determine the level of risk present at an agricultural site.

In simple terms, carry out an assessment to gauge potential risk from contamination, that assessment gives recommendations as to whether physical testing of soil from the site is required.

Desk Studies - The first phase, referred to as either a Desk Study or a Phase 1 Preliminary Risk Assessment, of dealing with contaminated agricultural land is to collate all available information on the past and current uses of the site and its environmental setting. This allows you to develop an initial risk assessment of the potential risks present at a farm site and will allow recommendations for the second phase to be appropriately carried out.

In some cases, however, the first phase may show that there is no need for any further work as there are no significant risks present so this first phase is very important in the risk assessment process, both for safety and for potential cost savings.

Soil Testing - Where desk studies on potentially contaminated agricultural land show that there are potential risks present, further testing will need to be carried out. This will generally involve taking soil samples from the site and testing them in a lab to identify any contamination above screening values. This allows you to gain a rather accurate picture of pollution on a farm site and determine the need for remediation.

If no contamination is found, the site can be considered uncontaminated and you can continue with the assurance that the site is safe.

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How Can Agricultural Land Be Contaminated?

You may think that natural activities like farming wouldn't cause contamination and therefore there would be no issues when applying for planning permission or selling agricultural land. They are generally in rural areas and unaffected by industrial activities so how could they be contaminated?

Agricultural activity can cause pollution issues in a variety of ways, including through the use of pesticides, asbestos in roofs, fuel spillages and burning organic materials. These can release contaminants such as heavy metals and hydrocarbons that can be harmful to human health and the environment.

Pesticides - Incorrect storage and poor management of the use of pesticides can lead to contamination issues as chemical compounds build up in the soil. This can pose a risk to human health in the future particularly if the site is redeveloped to be lived on. These compounds can also contaminate the surrounding area as they may be transported through groundwater or surface water courses. Heavy metals can also be present on agricultural land from the use of traditional pesticides such as Lead Arsenate. When the plants that these pesticides were used on rotted away, the lead and arsenic in the pesticides would not rot and this leads to a build up of lead and arsenic in the soil. These metals can be highly toxic and potentially pose a significant risk to human health. A Phase 1 Preliminary Risk Assessment would enable the risk from these contaminants to be assessed.

Hydrocarbons - Storage of heating oil and red diesel on a farm site can lead to contamination from leaking storage tanks or spillages during use. In addition to petroleum hydrocarbons, Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) are organic compounds that are released from the burning of organic materials such as paper, wood and vegetative materials. When these materials are burned, the ashes are sometimes used on soils and they may make their way into soil through atmospheric deposition. It may be unclear at first as to whether these contaminants are present so a Preliminary Risk Assessment should always be carried out to determine the potential level of risk.

Asbestos - Often used in roofs of agricultural buildings, asbestos presents a significant risk to human health if asbestos fibres are inhaled, either during redevelopment or when the site is lived on. If an asbestos roof is broken through general wear on the building over time or accidental damage these fibres can make their way into soils and present a risk to human health in the future. Having a Preliminary Risk Assessment carried out would allow for the assessment of the likely level of risk from asbestos at an agricultural site.

I Need Soil Testing for Potentially Contaminated Agricultural Land

We can carry out a range of contaminated land desk studies and soil sampling/ testing services for potentially contaminated agricultural land.

1. Contact us and let us know your requirements
2. Following initial consultation we can provide an outline proposal detailing how we can help and the costs involved
3. Our environmental consultants will then carry out a Phase 1 Desk Study (Preliminary Risk Assessment) and, if requested, visit your farm site to carry out a supporting Walkover Survey
4. We can complete many of our contaminated land desk studies and soil sampling/ testing services within days of your initial enquiry allowing you to stick to schedules and minimise any disruption to your project

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