CIEH warns of moves to relax standards for contaminated land remediation

Defra’s new screening levels represent higher levels of risk than those which local authorities currently use as guidelines, says CIEH

July 24th 2014

The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) has issued a position statement which expresses its concerns over the use of Category 4 Screening Levels (C4SLs) for contaminated land. CIEH says that the purpose of the levels, according to Defra’s pronouncements on the subject earlier this year, was to help local authorities with the identification of contaminated land under the Part 2A regime. However, it is now clear, says CIEH, that they are intended for use in the redevelopment of contaminated sites.

CIEH Principal Policy Officer Howard Price said that the difference is significant. “Instead of merely providing a step in a process of investigation,” he said, “the new contaminant soil concentrations tell developers how far, in Defra’s opinion, they need to remediate sites to make them suitable for use.” He pointed out that remediation is a matter for the local planning authority, not Defra, and gave a warning that local planning authorities are facing pressure to relax standards.

Local authorities currently use Generic Assessment Criteria (GAC) and Soil Guideline Values (SGVs) to assess the risk to human health posed by contaminated land. The GAC have been developed by CIEH in collaboration with Land Quality Management Ltd (LQM) and the two organisations held a workshop in Nottingham recently to update the GAC to reflect changes in health criteria values – see Brownfield Briefing for a report on the workshop.

CIEH and LQM intend to replace the GAC and soil guideline values with new “suitable for use levels” (S4ULs) for use in the planning system. The S4ULs cover 85 substances and have been developed for standard land uses as defined by CLEA (Contaminated Land Exposure Assessment) and two open space scenarios as defined by Defra. However, Defra’s new screening levels are more flexible than the new S4ULs proposed by CIEH and LQM, and Howard Price said that the levels represent higher levels of risk than those which local authorities currently use as guidelines: “In the case of at least one widespread contaminant,” he said, “ten times as much. That is just not acceptable.”

The CIEH said that underlying Defra’s recommendations is the promise made three years ago to support the Government’s growth agenda by removing excessive cost burdens on the house building sector to the tune of up to £132 million per annum – see our news item “Defra publishes report – Reforming Environmental Guidance”. Short-term savings are being sought at the expense of long-term risks, said Howard Price, and CIEH is calling on its members, their planning colleagues and responsible developers to maintain standards for the sake of public health.

The CIEH position statement is available as a PDF from the CIEH website at and for further information see the CIEH website at “Standards of protection for housing on contaminated land at risk”.


1. The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) is the professional voice for environmental health representing over 10,000 members working in the public, private and non-profit sectors. It is a leading provider of regulated qualifications in health and safety, food safety, environmental management, fire safety and first aid and operates in over 50 countries.

2. For news of the “suitable for use levels” proposed by CIEH and Land Quality Management Ltd, see the Land Quality Management website.