For any consideration of wider social effects to be a useful tool in refining a shortlist of potential remedial options, it must have a well-defined scope agreed by all stakeholders. Three issues are important:
Possible social effects that could be considered within an assessment include:
The question here is, how is the contamination in question impacting on the health of the community? The size of the community can range from the very local, as in the case of isolated sites to large populations, distributed over a wide geographical area, which would be the situation in the case of mega-sites. The answer to the question ‘who is the community’ will also be complicated in those cases where the adverse effects of contamination can impact on larger populations as a result of the problem having a pathway extending far beyond the geographical boundaries of the source contamination. Heath problems emanating from contamination that is able to spread via a watercourses or aquifer is one such example.
The community’s perceptions of risk:
Contaminated land is, by definition, different to brownfield land because in the former case the community’s fear that an unacceptable hazard exists is in fact correct. Therefore, whilst in most cases, a brownfield site will require a dialogue with the community that explains that the risk may well be non-existent or relatively low, those dealing with a contaminated site will, at the outset, be forced to agree that a problem actually exists. Officialdom often finds this situation difficult to deal with and will retreat into a mode of saying as little as possible. The effect of such a defensive mode will achieve little other than aggravating and alienating the very people on whom a satisfactory outcome is dependant. Adverse community sentiment can delay projects unnecessarily. Misplaced community fears can also have the more damaging effect of forcing a solution based on the ‘total clean up’ of a contaminated site even when such a solution is neither the most cost effective nor the most sustainable one.
Professionals, confronted with an aggressive community demand for more information, often express concern that technical information in the hands of the uninformed can lead to dangerous misinterpretation. Thus the incentive to say as little as possible is further reinforced. This fear is largely predicated on the assumption that people – especially those in damaged communities are unable to understand the issues properly. These fears are not well founded. It is the case that the most deprived communities are often those that sit adjacent to contaminated sites and such communities, for many complicated reasons, may well be suffering from low educational attainment. It is a mistake, however, to conclude that this makes it impossible to communicate complex issues to such communities. What is required is expert, transparent, truthful and non-tokenist communication. Properly conducted, a participative process can deliver many positive benefits. These include: a smoother programme delivery, a cost effective solution, a sustainable solution, community endorsement of funding bids, reduced vandalism and a potential resource for long term stewardship of the site.
Sometimes communities are heavily influenced by memories of earlier abuse from officialdom. A dialogue can be difficult to engender with a community that is apathetic to discourse because it has previously experienced little other than broken promises or has been exposed to a culture of “we know what is best for you”. All this means that the approach to creating a proper basis for a dialogue will need to be developed following the rebuilding of trust. An element of community development might well be a necessary precursor to the actual project development. In short, sustainable solutions, which enjoy the support of the community, whilst offering the best and optimum solutions will sometimes, take longer to develop and deliver and might seem to be more expensive.
Contaminated land sustainability assessment tools or appraisal tools are instruments to assess the economic, environmental and/or social effects of contaminated land problems and their management. Click here for further information: