French policy in the field of contaminated sites and soil is based on a limited number of principles that make it possible to deal with the problem in a clear and
•an active prevention of future contamination
•a thorough knowledge, accessible to all, of potential risks
•a suitable treatment of the site in terms of its real 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 no. 95-101 of February 2, 1995), which states 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, which ensures that the degree of detail of the study is consistent with the extent of the contamination and its predictable
effects. This generally leads to the use of an iterative procedure – prior understanding of a site can be extremely useful for the optimal design of the necessary
studies and work.
•The specificity principle, which 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 using a site-specific approach based
on the assessment of the potential risks and on the owner/operator's intended use of the site (a so-called functional and specific approach).
•The transparency principle, which 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 fundamental problem is the risk of the transport of pollutants towards identified targets. 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 organized by the French Ministry in charge of the environment have developed methodological guidelines to facilitate the
management of contaminated sites and soil. These form a toolbox that can be used for addressing specific problems. These technical documents were modified
in 2007, in order to take into account experience feedback.
The new procedures make it possible to manage cases individually. Generic references that take into account all possible environmental exposure scenarios
provide a framework. Two management steps have been identified:
Step 1. Acquire knowledge and understanding: the conceptual site model
Step 2. Undertake actions when required (simple measures or a management plan)
Two site management procedures are recommended:
1.If the future uses of the site have already been decided, determine whether this use is compatible with the state of the environment (Media Quality Assessment
(MQA) or Interpretation de l'état des milieux (IEM)).
2.If uses can still be decided upon or the state of the environment can be improved, remediate the site and develop a Management Plan.
The only law for managing the remediation of soil contaminated by industry was that of July 19, 1976 concerning Classified Installations (included, in September
2000, in the Environment Act), and its application decree of September 21, 1977 (see below). Previously, the first general text regulating installations
that are sources of nuisances or risks was the imperial decree of October 15, 1810, which established three classes for factories and workshops that emitted
unhealthy or offensive odours. The law of December 19, 1917 concerning dangerous, unhealthy and disruptive establishments revised these regulations by
replacing the authorization required for the 3rd class with a declaration.
The law of July 19, 1976 concerning Classified Installations for the Protection of the Environment updated the law of 1917, notably by extending its scope
to include all installations regardless of their legal status and increasing the government’s powers of action. It was significantly modified by the laws
of July 3, 1985, in particular, notably increasing penalties, of July 22, 1987 concerning major risks, of July 13, 1992 (2 laws) concerning waste and genetically
modified organisms, of January 4, 1993 concerning quarries and of February 2, 1995 concerning the strengthening of the Protection of the Environment, of July
30, 2003 concerning industrial risks. On September 21, 2000, it was assimilated into the Environment Act. National policy and the measures to be applied are
defined in circulars issued by the Minister in charge of the environment to the Prefects of the departments (who represent the central government).
The Decree of September 13, 2005 concerning derelict Classified Installations describes how to carry out quantitative risk assessments, execute industrial
site security and risk management measures, undertake site remediation with the best available techniques under acceptable economic conditions depending
on future use, and implement usage restrictions.
Other important regulatory documents that address contaminated sites are:
•Law of July 15, 1975 concerning Waste disposal and material recovery
•Law of July 19, 1976, concerning Environmental permits for Classified Installations for the Protection of the Environment (“ICPE law”)
•Law of January 1992 concerning Water resource management and protection (“Water law”)
•Law of July 13, 1992 concerning Municipal solid waste management
•Law of February 2, 1995 concerning the Funding of orphan sites
In 2007, new circulars came into effect in order to update the management methodology for contaminated sites and soil:
•Ministry of Ecology Memorandum of February 8, 2007 concerning Contaminated sites and soil - Contaminated site management and remediation procedures
•Ministry of Ecology Circular of February 8, 2007 concerning Classified Installations - Prevention of soil contamination – Contaminated land management
Other circulars for Classified Installations, concerning the chain of liability, orphan sites and the remediation of contaminated sites for facilities
where sensitive populations gather also came into effect on February 8, 2007 (see Brownfields).