France:-  Management / administration

Glossary Entry
France is a Republic divided into 26 regions and 101 departments (in 2011), 4 of which are overseas. 
Located in Western Europe, France has 3,427 km of coastline and is bordered, clockwise from the north,
by Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany, Switzerland, Monaco, Italy, Spain and Andorra. France covers
544,435 km² and has a population of 60,185,831. Paris is the capital of France.


In spite of a recent trend towards regionalization, governance in France remains highly centralized. For the environment, as for other areas, laws are debated and voted by the national assembly (parliament) and the corresponding regulations are enforced by the government throughout the country. The principal difference between France and other European countries concerning the implementation of the legal framework on contaminated-land management is related to a basic principle of the French approach – for legislation to be effective, the various participants (stakeholders, site owners, consultants, regulators) must participate cooperatively in its implementation.


The administrative organization in France is based on national and regional levels, and the decision-making bodies for contaminated-land management and for water management in France are significantly different.

3.    Contaminated-land management

The Ministry in charge of the environment

At the central level, the Ministry in charge of the environment is in charge of contaminated-land management. This Ministry is responsible for taking actions intended to reduce pollution, nuisances and environmental risks generated by activities of "Classified Installations for the Protection of the Environment" (see below).

The Departments

At the local level, the basic administrative unit is the Département. France has 101 departments grouped into 26 regions. They are headed by Préfets de département, hereafter called "Prefects", who are appointed by and represent the central government. Most decisions are taken by the Prefects under the auspices of the Ministry in charge of the environment. The Prefects make decisions, ensure that laws are obeyed and take any further measures that may prove necessary. They are backed by specific divisions of the Prefectures and/or decentralized administrative bodies.

Regional Directories of Industry, Research and Environment

For contaminated sites, the Prefect is assisted by the Inspectors of Classified Installations, who monitor industrial activities and usually work for the Regional Directorates of the Environment, Land-Use Planning, and Housing (DREAL). In and around Paris, due to the fact that Paris is both a city and a department, assistance is provided by a specific division of the Paris Police Department, the Inter-Departmental Technical Service for the Inspection of Classified Installations - STIIC.

Local level

Municipal governments are indirectly involved in contaminated-land management. They are in charge of land-use and urban planning and its enforcement.

Water pollution

The actors involved in water protection are different from those involved in contaminated-land management. At the national level, the Ministry in charge of the environment is in charge of protecting water resources. At the local level, the Prefects are assisted by inspectors in various regional offices (DDAF, DDE). Six regional Water Authorities, covering the major river basins, have 5 specific missions:

  • ensure the balance between water resources and needs
  • reach the quality objectives set by regulations
  • improve and increase the usable resources within the basin
  • protect resources from flooding and pollution
  • coordinate general actions within the river basin, such as:
    • instrumentation and measuring
    • assistance for water recycling and savings
    • public information, etc.

These actions are financed by an additional tax on pumping and discharge rates. At the regional level, a Basin-Coordinator Prefect (the Prefect of the region in which the head office of the local Water Authority is located) is responsible for coordinating Water policy. At the local level, towns are responsible for drinking-water distribution.


French policy in the field of contaminated sites and soil is based on a limited number of principles that help in tackling the problem in a clear and rational manner:

  • the active prevention of future contamination
  • a thorough knowledge of potential risks and public access to this information
  • suitable treatment of the site as a function of its true impact on the environment and its planned use, based on a detailed risk assessment

The basic principles of the French approach are:

The precautionary principle (defined in Law 95-101 of February 2, 1995) specifies that the uncertainty inherent in current scientific and technical knowledge should not delay the adoption of measures intended to prevent the risk of serious and irreversible damage to the environment, at an acceptable cost.

The proportionality principle ensures that the degree of detail of the study is consistent with the extent of the pollution and its predictable effects. This generally leads to the use of an iterative procedure. A prior understanding of a site can be extremely useful for the optimal design of the studies and work required.

The specificity principle states that remediation work should eliminate the development or persistence of risks or harm to humans or other identified targets (ecosystems, water resources, etc.). The aim of remediation is, therefore, determined on a case-by-case basis by a specific approach to the sites, based on the assessment of the potential risks and on the intended use of the site by the owner/operator (a so-called functional and specific approach).

The transparency principle aims at imposing rules so that choices (working hypotheses, tools used, degree of detail, understanding, residual uncertainties, etc.) inherent in the risk assessment procedure are presented, explained and discussed, in particular when the stakeholders work together.

These principles are based on the observation that the major issue is the risk that pollutants will move toward identified targets or receptors. Various tools have been developed for addressing the problems that commonly arise when managing polluted sites and soil, in particular those concerning the identification of sites presenting the greatest risk, their study and, if necessary, their remediation.

In recent years, working groups steered by the French Ministry in charge of the environment have developed several methodological guidelines for managing contaminated sites and soil. These guidelines form a toolbox to be used for answering specific questions.

2.    Key Documents

Law 95-101, 2 February, 1995

Water Law

Classified Industrial Activities Law (19 July 1976)

Circular of February 8, 2007 of the Ministry in charge of the environment concerning Classified Installations – Prevention of soil contamination – Contaminated land management

3.    Useful Web Links

French Presidency

French Ministry for Ecology, Energy, Sustainable Development and the Sea

Other dedicated web sites

Regional Direction for Environment

SitesPollués - French portal for contaminated land

Regional Directorate for Industry, Research and the Environment

French Environment and Energy Management Agency

4.    Abbreviations





Ministère de l’Ecologie, de l’Energie, du Développement Durable et de la Mer


Agence de l’Environnement et de la Maîtrise de l’Energie


Direction Régionale de l’Environnement, de l’Aménagement et du Logement


Direction Régionale de l’Industrie, de la Recherche et de l‘Environnement


Direction Régionale de l‘Environnement


Service for the inspection of classified installations


Installation Classée pour la Protection de l‘Environnement

5.    Key Technical Terms




Ministère de l’Ecologie, de l’Energie, du Développement Durable et de la Mer

French Ministry of Ecology, Energy, Sustainable Development and the Sea

Agence de l’Environnement et de la Maîtrise de l’Energie

French Agency for Environment and Energy Management

Direction Régionale de l’Environnement, de l’Aménagement et du Logement

Regional Directorate for the Environment, Land-Use Planning and Housing

Direction Régionale de l’Industrie, de la Recherche et de l‘Environnement

Regional Directorate for Industry, Research and the Environment

Direction Régionale de l‘Environnement

Regional Directorate for the Environment

Installation Classée pour la Protection de l’Environnement

Classified Installation for the Protection of the Environment

Inspection des installations classées

Inspectorate of Classified Installations

6.    Acknowledgement

French approach to contaminated-land management - Revision 1 BRGM/RP-52276-FR)



Jean François Brunet
BRGM, France

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