Identifying potentially hazardous land

This week, Environment Canterbury begins a mail-out to about 700 Timaru property owners who may have land affected by chemicals or hazardous substances remaining in the ground from a previous use of the land, such as an orchard, sheep dip, or landfill.

“This process is not unique to Timaru. Since 2008, regional councils throughout New Zealand have been required to identify previous land uses which may have adversely affected land. In the last few years we’ve done this process in Christchurch, Selwyn and Waimakariri,” said Environment Canterbury principal science advisor Rowan Freeman.

“People have a right to know what their land has been used for in the past. Most people receiving notification will not need to do anything. It’s only those landowners who are doing major land works or subdividing who will have to take any action.”

If people aren’t subdividing or carrying out earth works, it will not be necessary to test their land. The Timaru District Council can give advice as to when testing is required.

“In many cases, the soil will be fine. Just because someone’s land has been an orchard, for instance, does not necessarily mean hazardous substances were used or buried there, just that they could have been,” Freeman said. “It’s our job to record this and let the landowner know.”

Based on Environment Canterbury’s experience in dealing with these types of sites over many years, it’s considered unlikely that concentrations of contaminants in most Canterbury soils will be high enough to cause long-term health effects, Freeman said.

Background information:

This project is for land use identification, we are not identifying contaminated sites. All New Zealand regional councils are required to identify land where hazardous activities and industries have taken place to help identify where there might be chemicals that can be harmful when remaining in the soil. Examples of such activities are horticultural sites (former market gardens and orchards), closed landfills, sheep dips, timber treatment sites, gasworks, fuel suppliers and service stations. When such activities are identified by Environment Canterbury, details about the property are added to the publicly available database, the Listed Land Use Register.

What does being on the LLUR mean?

Being on the Listed Land Use Register (LLUR) doesn’t mean a property is contaminated, it means it has now or in the past had an activity that the MfE has on their Hazardous Activities & Industries List (HAIL). These activities have the potential to contaminate land because of the use, storage or disposal of hazardous substances. There is no requirement to do anything as a result of being registered on the LLUR, unless you are:

  • Doing earthworks. 
  • Sampling the soil to determine if there’s any contamination. 
  • Subdividing. 
  • Changing the use of the land. 
  • Removing or replacing an underground fuel storage tank.

If you are carrying out these activities, you should contact the Timaru District Council about consents that may be required under the National Environmental Standard for Assessing and Managing Contaminants in Soil to Protect Human Health (MfE 2012).

Landowners should let tenants or prospective buyers know about the land use history of the site, by passing on the LLUR statement to them. They will be able to access the LLUR themselves.

Are there health risks if my property is on the LLUR?

The Canterbury District Health Board advises that everyone with a garden, whether the property is on the Listed Land Use Register or not, should follow some common-sense precautions to minimise potential health risks. This guidance is provided on the Community & Public Health website.

Most common land uses in Timaru:

  • Livestock dip or spray race operations. 
  • Persistent pesticide bulk storage or use (includes sports turfs, orchards, market gardens, glasshouses etc).
  • Landfill sites.
  • The majority of the sites identified are sheep dips, primarily on rural land.