Buying Commercial Realty: Soil Contamination


Commercial lots: beware, contamination

The current real estate bubble is even reaching the commercial sector. Things are moving so fast that many buyers are ignoring several pre-purchase steps, including environmental site assessment, and are turning a blind eye to soil and groundwater condition. Failure to perform this due diligence increases commercial and industrial lot owners’ risk of being confronted to contaminated soil issues and to rush down a slippery slope!


What is contaminated land?


A contaminated land is a land characterized by a high presence (i.e above natural levels) of harmful substances affecting human and environmental health.


  • Environmental health because soil and groundwater health is threatened, in addition to the risk of fires, explosions and contamination of surrounding buildings which is increased tenfold.

  • Hhuman health because of the toxicity of contaminants.


When we talk about contaminated land, we are talking about contamination that affects the soil, the water tables or the groundwaters.


How do you know if a land is contaminated?


Some signs or criterias don’t lie about the soil’s condition.


1. Find out about the land’s background

What types of activities were carried out? What products where manufactured? Contamination often results from unsanitary practices (negligent management of residual material, non-management of gas leaks) associated with hazardous products handling.


2. Consult the land registry

A contamination notice is registered as soon as an increased presence of contaminants is detected.


3. Find out about nearby activities

Contamination has an unsuspected ability to spread. Contamination from a neighbor can easily and quickly reach your property.


4. Talk with previous owner

A business that closes permanently and puts its land up for sale is required to characterize that land and submit a rehabilitation plan.

Industrial activities are often a sign of contamination. But some sectors of activity are particularly at risk :


  • Former quarry or domestic waste treatment site

  • Hydrocarbon management (oil, shale gas, biogas, fuel)

  • Hazardous products handling (chemicals, gas, oil)

  • Mining activities

  • Pulp and paper industry

  • Water treatment

  • Industrial landfills


Faced to a field with such a past, immediately think about starting the environmental analysis and characterization steps and then the decontamination.


Contaminated land: who is paying?


In general, remediation is the responsibility of the legal person who used the land when the contamination occurred. Bill 72 of the Environment Quality Act (EQA) seeks to make the "polluter", in this case the "wrongdoer", responsible for aggravating a contamination situation. Any person who has had custody of contaminated land (as owner, tenant or otherwise) will be held responsible for the decontamination of the land, unless he can demonstrate that he acted with due diligence or that the contamination was caused by a third party.


However, no owner should find himself in this type of situation since he will have fulfilled his duties before buying the land, i.e., studying the history of the land (including the encumbrances on the building) and requiring an environmental site assessment (which is increasingly required by banking institutions to conclude the deed of purchase). An environmental assessment allows you, among other things, not to be held responsible for the eventual remediation of the land, if it is found to be contaminated as a result of activities carried out before you.


If an assessment reveals a large environmental liability, ask yourself the right questions:

  • Who will be responsible for soil rehabilitation?

  • What is the impact on the value of the land?

  • Is the purchase (including remediation costs) worth it?


Mission: decontamination!


If you own a commercial or industrial property with a contamination problem, contacting professional decontamination services becomes imperative! Enutech offers remediation services for contaminated land in various types of environments, including commercial and industrial.

An environmental site assessment is the first step in our rigorous remediation process. We conduct an exhaustive review of the existing information on the history of the site and the activities that took place there. We then conduct preliminary environmental characterizations where we take samples to confirm the presence of contaminants and gauge the extent of contamination.


Historically, decontamination has been associated with heavy work that is harmful to the environment. However, recent sustainable and innovative technologies are now available to carry out environmentally friendly decontamination work. Enutech stands behind its clean remediation methods. We proceed to in situ injections with a low carbon footprint that take into account the specificities of the treated environment or to phytoremediation, always minimizing the need for large excavations.


Conclusion


In all cases, the purchase of commercial or industrial land is an important transaction that should not be taken lightly to avoid dealing with major issues that could jeopardize the purpose of the land or depreciate its value. Despite the correctness of provincial and federal laws governing the purchase of contaminated land, no one is immune from finding himself or herself faced with a contamination issue on the land.


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