Across Australia, old industrial sites are being turned into new businesses, community facilities and housing projects. This is adding residential space, stimulating local economies and adding to the services available to local people, but it can also bring problems. Many industrial sites come with a legacy of toxic contamination, such as the old copper smelter at Port Kembla in NSW or the Wunderlich factory in Melbourne's Sunshine North suburb (dubbed the "factory of death" due to its asbestos emissions).
If you are regenerating brownfield sites, stories like that shouldn't put you off, but they do suggest that planning is needed to ensure that the project is completed safely, without putting workers or the public at risk. Here are some things to consider if you are using old industrial land to expand your business.
Research the History of the Site
When toxic waste is discovered decades after a plant has shut, the first response is usually surprise, but this doesn't have to be the case. Every piece of land in Australia has a record dating back to when it was first cleared and built upon. Each state runs a land registry that is publicly available. For example, you can log onto the website of the NSW Land & Property Information service and quickly search for previous owners of the land you are using. That way, you should be able to tell the type of factory that occupied the land and take measures to test for contaminants.
Bring in Experts to Test the Land
If you do suspect that the land is tainted, the only way to find out what substances are present is by hiring environmental consultants to carry out a site survey. Your consultants will benefit from the research you completed regarding the history of the land, and then combine this historical knowledge with soil samples and analysis.
In some cases, your local authority will ask you to organise more in-depth studies. This applies if the land is intended for use for residential purposes or construction work will be taking place next to residential properties. In these cases, an environmental audit will be required. Again, your consultant should be able to advise about the cheapest and most effective way to complete the audit.
Carry out Your Project Responsibly
The work that your environmental consultant does should then feed into the construction phase. If there are high concentrations of specific chemicals, formulate health and safety plans to minimise the exposure of your staff and local people. Just as importantly, ask your consultant to recommend how to remove contaminants present on your property. Substances like asbestos or lead require specialist disposal methods using EPA approved vehicles and disposal sites.
Redeveloping old industrial sites can be the most ecologically sensitive and economically efficient way to expand your business and enhance the local economy. However, it needs to be done properly to reduce the risks of contamination. By checking the history of your site, bringing in consultants and acting on their safety advice during the construction phase, you can develop your project and deal with any contamination you encounter along the way. For more information, contact environmental consultants, like those at Geotech Testing Pty Ltd.