(Preliminary Site Investigation or Detailed Site Investigation)
We are often asked by clients “why are council requesting a contamination report ?”. Why do I require a Preliminary Site Investigation under SEPP 55 ?? What is a Detailed Site Investigation ?? These recent articles on ABC News and Nine News provide an example. The articles outline the impacts which can occur from the use of chemicals which were used frequently in the past but were not at the time of use known to be a high risk. Now however, like asbestos risks and asbestos contamination we know the risk to be high and dangerous to human health. In this case the chemical(s) were Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). These are members of a group of chemicals known as perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs). Both PFOS and PFOA are very persistent in the environment. They were used in firefighting foams by the Australian Air Force at the Williamstown Air Force Base which resulted in groundwater contamination. The contamination means residents cannot drink their bore water or eat home-grown vegetables or eggs from farmyard chickens. A resident has stated that banks are withholding loans in the area and valuers are not coming to site when they find out it’s in the exclusion zone. As such, and in addition to the associated potential health risks of such contamination events, land values suffer making it more difficult to sell and lowering the price. So why has council requested a Preliminary Site Investigation becomes quite clear when you consider that a Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment (Preliminary Site Investigation) is used to identify potential risks of contamination to a property. Groundwater contamination is only one of the potential types of contamination. Soils are often contaminated by previous use of a site or from illegal dumping which often occurs around larger cities and urban areas (particularly western Sydney). As Environmental Consultants based in Sydney we come across contamination situations quite often. As part of any purchase (just like a home inspection) it is well worth obtaining the services of an experienced environmental consultant to undertake an assessment of the property to determine the potential risk of contamination by way of a Phase 1 Preliminary Site Investigation report. If there is an identified risk of potential contamination then a Phase 2 Detailed Site Investigation should be undertaken to determine if there is contamination present, it type, extent and recommended remediation. In many countries these reports are extremely common and are linked to the mortgage application process and are requested by the banks before providing finance. The banks protect their investment by only providing mortgages to customers purchasing a “clean” site. Australia lags behind somewhat as this is not often a request by banks or thought of by purchasers of property. It is however a critical part of Due Diligence with any property purchase particularly if it is a farm, disused piece of land or former industrial site or if the history of the site is uncertain. The impacts of purchasing a contaminated piece of land can include significant health impacts and significant financial losses through clean up costs.