Jouko Pirttijärvi © Image Bank of the Enrivonmental Administration
Soil, groundwater and sediment
Soil contamination refers to reduced soil quality due to harmful substances resulting from human activity. This may endanger or harm human health or the environment, reduce the pleasantness of the area, or otherwise violate private or public interests.
Pollution of groundwater refers to changes in groundwater which may endanger or harm health or the environment, or otherwise violate the public of private interests of other people. Pollution also refers to reduced groundwater quality in groundwater areas suitable for supplying water. The term also describes a situation where groundwater on another person's property becomes unsuitable for the purposes for which it might otherwise have been used.
When contaminated soil and polluted groundwater are remedied, their negative impacts and risks are investigated, assessed and monitored, and either eliminated or significantly reduced. Sediments in water bodies may be contaminated and require remediation. Attention is most often drawn to the condition of sediments when dredging is performed in areas subject to an environmental load.
The Ministry of the Environment is in charge of developing legislation and national guidelines concerning the recovery of contaminated areas. The ministry supports the restoration of contaminated areas in cases where the cause of the damage is unknown, or the culpable party is unable to compensate for such damage. Restoration is supported by activities such as the research and restoration project of the Finnish Oil Pollution Compensation Fund (the Jaska project) and the state's waste management system.
Legislation and national guidelines provide a framework for remediation
Legislation provides a framework for the treatment of contaminated soil and groundwater. The prohibition of any action that may contaminate the soil and groundwater and general principles in the Environmental Protection Act are aimed at preventing contamination or, if full prevention is not possible, minimising the environmental impact of harmful substances.
Acts and decrees also lay down provisions on the assessment of the contamination and need for remediation in an area, division of the responsibility for remediation, permits required for restoration and the notification obligation when selling or renting out property. The amendments to the sections of the Environmental Protection Act and Decree on contaminated areas entered into force on 1 September 2014.
The key objectives concerning contaminated areas and the needs and means for developing the actions have been specified in the national risk management strategy for contaminated land. The strategy also includes a national research and restoration programme.
A demonstration programme concerning contaminated areas and soil recycling is being implemented as one of the government’s key projects. The aim is to promote the development and use of sustainable remediation methods for contaminated areas.
The Ministry of the Environment has issued new guidelines on the risk assessment and sustainable risk management of contaminated soils. Now the guidelines are even more comprehensive than before, covering all aspects of the environment and risk management. The Ministry’s guidelines on sediment dredging and deposition are also intended to be applied with regard to remediation dredging.
Tasks of the authorities
The Ministry of the Environment is developing the management of contaminated areas on a general level. In matters related to soil contamination, the Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment wield the primary authority, handling notifications on remediation. Remediation-related environmental permits are handled by the Regional State Administrative Agency. In the Cities of Helsinki and Turku, authority over the remediation of contaminated soil has been transferred from government authorities to municipal environmental protection authorities.
Soil state database
In order to identify contaminated areas, the authorities have been mapping areas which have previously had or currently have operations that may cause harmful substances to enter the soil. It is usually necessary to assess the contamination and need for remediation of these areas in possible situations where environmentally harmful operations are discontinued, when land use in the area changes, when an area thought to be contaminated is subject to a corporate or property transaction, or when elevated concentrations of pollutants or adverse effects are observed in the environment.
The environmental administration has created a soil state database in order to manage area-specific soil contamination data. This database contains data on areas which may be contaminated, declared contaminated, remediated and declared clean.