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 Conservation Act (Bundes-Bodenschutzgesetz), “site contamination” is contamination at abandoned waste or industrial sites that provokes deleterious changes in the ground or other threats to public health. Such phenomena are caused by improper handling, storage or depositing of waste and improper use of environmentally hazardous substances.


In 1999, Germany enacted soil protection laws that provide statutory and technical site contamination remediation instruments, the goal being to ensure that such measures are enforced in the various regional states. But unfortunately, improper land use by companies, farmers and private individuals in some cases gives rise to deleterious changes in the soil and to site contamination. According to official government statistics, more than 1,000 cases of wrongful soil contamination (as defined by section 324a of the German Penal Code (StGB)) come to light each year, resulting in around 90 convictions annually. No definitive solution to this problem is in sight, however, despite the billions that the government has poured into it, not to mention the cost of public sector remediation programs and cleanup measures undertaken by the parties responsible for remediation.

Site remediation measures are governed by the following laws: Gesetz zum Schutz vor schädlichen Bodenveränderungen und Altlasten (Bundes-Bodenschutzgesetz – BBodSchG); and Bundes-Bodenschutz- und Altlastenverordnung (BBodSchV). The main site remediation goal set by the BBodSchG law is hazard prevention. However, this also entails ecological measures aimed at sustainable soil protection, for mere hazard prevention cannot possibly restore soils to their original state. Lasting soil stewardship will only be achievable if the proper precautionary and preventive measures are taken.

In Germany, contaminated-site remediation is based on a graduated concept that has proven to be highly effective. Using existing information and targeted investigations as a starting point, suspected site contamination is verified in terms of the following: the existence and concentration of hazardous substances; the impact of these substances on the relevant transfer pathways; and the latter’s impact on receptors and other natural resources. Official identification of site contamination normally results from a definitive hazard assessment and forms the basis for protective and/or remediation measures.

The table titled Bundesweite Altlastenstatistik (Nationwide site contamination statistics) contains information concerning the identification and remediation status of suspected contaminated sites in Germany. These statistics, which are based on data provided by the various regional states, centre around the following domestic and international issues:

  • Approaches to the remediation of large sites and complex site remediation scenarios at industrial sites, as well as severe pollution of urban groundwater and overlapping polluted areas.
  • Implementation instruments that take account of natural pollution abatement mechanisms for contaminated site management, particularly in conjunction with site remediation projects.
  • Harmonized international implementation of EU soil protection strategy requirements.
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