Site contamination

Graphic realization of a multifarious land useClick to enlarge
Soil is a multifarious habitat

Graphic realization of a multifarious land use

Source: Frauke Schön

According to the Federal Soil Protection Act ( BBodSchG), contaminated sites are abandoned industrial sites or abandoned waste disposal sites that have caused harmful changes to the soil or other hazards to individuals or the general public. This can be caused by
improper treatment, storage or disposal of waste and/or the improper handling of environmentally hazardous substances.


Since 1999, Germany has had a Soil Protection Act that provides practicable legal and technical instruments for dealing with soil protection and contaminated sites. A comprehensive amendment to its subordinate ordinances, which came into force on 1 August 2023, regulates the further development of the Federal Soil Protection and Contaminated Sites Ordinance (BBodSchV) and introduces a new Ordinance on the Introduction of Substitute Building Materials (EBV). The latter ordinance regulates requirements for the installation of mineral substitute building materials in technical structures and is intended to ensure that the recycling rates of the materials in question can be kept at a high level so that natural resources are conserved and no new harmful soil changes occur as a result.

This ensures that the federal states responsible for enforcement have a legal basis for implementing soil protection at a high level of protection.

Nevertheless, the inappropriate use and management of land in some places by industry, commerce, agriculture and private individuals is causing harmful soil changes and contaminated sites. Investigations, assessments and (remediation) measures carried out to date and billions spent by the public sector and private parties responsible for remediation have led to significant progress in the management of contaminated sites in Germany, but this has not yet resulted in a lasting and comprehensive solution to the problem. This is also due to "new" pollutants such as PFAS, which can often cause diffuse contamination and pose new challenges for remediation management due to their specific nature.

The basis for measures to identify and remediate contaminated sites is provided by the Federal Soil Protection Act (BBodSchG) and the Federal Soil Protection and Contaminated Sites Ordinance (BBodSchV). The primary objective of contaminated site remediation enshrined in the BBodSchG is “hazard prevention”. However, this means making ecological concessions to sustainable soil protection, as it is not possible to restore the soil to its original state with hazard prevention measures. Sustainable soil protection can only be achieved through precaution and/or prevention.

The management of contaminated sites in Germany follows a step-by-step concept that has proven itself in practice. On the basis of existing information and targeted investigations, suspected contaminated sites are successively verified with regard to the presence and concentration of hazardous substances, their behavior on relevant transfer pathways and their effects on protected goods and receptors. The official determination of a contaminated site is usually the result of a final risk assessment and establishes a requirement for hazard prevention/remediation.

Acutally the following priorities are being addressed both nationally and internationally:

  • Further development and knowledge-based adaptation of assessment bases for the precautionary, trigger and action values,
  • Development and revision of an enforcement-guiding assessment for "new" pollutants,
  • Remediation concepts for large-scale and complex cases of damages at industrial (mega) sites with regard to soil and groundwater also inner-city,
  • development of innovative, sustainable and site-specific remediation concepts, particularly for mixed contamination, diffuse pollution patterns and persistent pollutants, and
  • the development of joint monitoring and regulatory approaches for healthy soils in the EU.
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