Climate change and contaminated land – why should we care?

Joanne Kwan CIRIA , Claire Dickinson, Independent Consultant,& Paul Nathanail, LQM

In May 2019, the UK Parliament declared a nationwide environment and climate emergency. 

CIRIA’s new working group on climate change and contaminated land is bringing together a wide range of professionals to explore how extreme weather events (EWEs) will influence their practices.  Our first two workshops allowed us to explore different perspectives on a range of land use scenarios.  Environmental consultants, surveyors, insurers, developers, transport providers, investors have much to learn from each other as they each look to ensure they take proper account of a changing climate on the way they work, and on the advice they give their clients, and ultimately society at large. 

Climate change is a hot topic, although future rises in temperatures and sea levels (excluding our historic coastal landfills) are not the immediate challenge to risk based contaminated land management. Changes in the intensity and frequency of EWEs are where the threats, and even opportunities, for contaminated land management are already being felt, but perhaps not well enough considered. 

Both the design and implementation of remediation needs to account for increasingly intense precipitation, strong winds, prolonged dry spells.  Hoardings need to be anchored to prevent them becoming airborne.  Permeable reactive barriers need to be able to accommodate changes in groundwater flow direction or velocity.  Soil vapour extraction systems should be designed to allow for rising/fluctuating groundwater.  Capping layers need to be able to withstand erosion/desiccation.  Excavations could flood during intense rainstorms causing side slope failure.  None of these challenges are intractable, if the effects of EWEs are considered during the design of temporary and permanent works.

To find out more about the working group, please contact joanne.kwan@ciria.org.uk