Germany:-  Management / administration

Glossary Entry
Germany is a Federal Republic with 16 states (Länder), founded in 1949. Located in the centre of Europe 
it is flanked by nine neighbouring states since the unification of the two German states in 1990. Germany
covers an area of 357,000 square kilometres. The longest distance from north to south as the crow flies
is 876 km, and from west to east, 640 km. With 83 million inhabitants Germany is one of the most densely-populated
countries in Europe. Capital is Berlin.
Germany overview: Management of contaminated land and water

Germany overview: Management of contaminated land and water


In Germany, the management of contaminated land and water is determined in the Federal Soil Conservation Act and the Federal Soil Conservation and Contaminated Site Ordinance. The steps from identification over risk assessment up to remediation and monitoring are outlined in figure 1. The flow-chart based on the expert opinion for contaminated sites of the German Council of Environmental Advisors, in German "Sondergutachten Altlasten des Rates von Sachverständigen für Umweltfragen" (Bundestagsdrucksache 11/6191), and was updated after the commencement of both Federal law documents mentioned above. Different assessments (historical, orientating and detailed) are passed through to decide whether a suspected site is “not contaminated”, “under suspicion to be contaminated” or “contaminated”. Figure 2 shows the flowchart in German language.

The stepwise procedure of the risk leads to a higher level of knowledge at each step. Sites with low or no risks can be excluded from the further investigation procedure at an early stage, whereas acute hazards may demand immediate measures. 

As a first step, a historical investi­gation of a suspected contaminated site is carried out. All available data about the former industrial sector, the technologies implemented or the waste released through the manufacturing processes are collected. Such information may be found, for example, in manufacturing files, archives, documents of environmental authorities, state land registers and local chronicles or by interviewing contemporaries. The historical investigation includes a site visit, but no technical or chemical investigations.

Having reasons from the historical investigation to suspect contamination, an orientating investigation is triggered. First measurements and soil samples are taken to assess the hazard for the relevant transport pathways and the resources to be protected.


Within the Soil Protection Act the German government has established a specific tool for this step of site assessment. Trigger values assist in indicating if there is a concrete suspicion of contamination or not. This helps the responsible authorities to cope with the huge numbers of suspected contaminated sites. If the trigger value is exceeded, further investigations are required to determine whether the site is contaminated and whether measures are necessary. If the measured contaminants are lower than the trigger values, a risk for human health and the environment can be excluded.


If the trigger value is exceeded, further investi­gations are required to determine whether a harmful soil change or site contamination ex­ists.

Human health risks and land use risks are considered in the context of pathway models. For example, the list of trigger values for the “direct contact” pathway consists of 13 substances and four categories according to the sensitivity of use: play­grounds for children, residential areas, parks and recrea­tional facilities, industrial areas.

Further pathways of  contaminant spreading considered by trigger values are  “soil–plant” and  “soil–groundwater” pathways.

The trigger values are based on toxicological data, exposure models and substance-specific considerations.


The orientating investigation leads to an expert opinion including a hazard assessment and recommendations for further action. If the orientating investigation has confirmed the suspected contami­nation, a detailed investiga­tion is initiated. Its objectives are a final hazard assessment  and the setting of criteria for further treatment. In general, data are required relating to the contamination source, the pathways of spreading of the harmful substances and the resources to be protected. As a result of the de­tailed investigation, a remediation proposal is compiled, working out the optimum remediation technology for the individual sites and the target val­ues of the remediation. It may also include different alternatives for the remediation or the combination of several remediation technologies.


Figure 1 Flow chart of contaminated land management in Germany




Figure 2 Fließbild der Altlastenbearbeitung in Deutschland



Key Documents


Federal Soil Protection Act (BBodSchG) of 17 March 1998

BBodSchG - Bundes-Bodenschutzgesetz vom 17. März 1998




Federal Soil Protection and Contaminated Sites Ordinance (BBodSchG) of 12 July 1999

BBodSchV - Bundes-Bodenschutz- und Altlastenverordnung vom 12. Juli 1999




SRU (1990): Sondergutachten ''Altlasten'' des Rates von Sachverständigen für Umweltfragen. - Drucksache 11/6191 des Deutschen Bundestages. Verlag Dr. Hans Heger, Bonn.


Useful Web Links


Web site “Contaminated sites” of Federal Environmental Agency Germany


Flow chart of contaminated land management in Germany in English


Flow chart of contaminated land management in Germany in German



List of Abbreviations







Bundes-Bodenschutz- und Altlastenverordnung


Sachverständigenrat für Umweltfragen


List of Key Technical Terms





Federal Soil Conservation Act

Bundes-Bodenschutz- und Altlastenversordnung

Soil Conservation and Contaminated Site Ordinance

Sachverständigenrat für Umweltfragen

German Council of Environmental Advisors




Maike Hauschild
UBA, Germany

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