Any physical, chemical, biological, or radiological substance or matter that is in, on or under the
land and that has the potential to cause harm to human health or the environment.
The French policy for detecting and analysing pollutants in contaminated land is a key component
of the general policy for risk assessment and site management.
Rather than being a normative approach, it is based on the use of activity-sector-specific matrices
for detection strategies, and state-of-the art analytical methods.
The information most-readily available during site investigations is usually related to the last
known activities (e.g. agriculture, industry, dump). The other families of pollutants that may
be present in the soil must be deduced from the history of the site.
When the site's history is not well known, a more extensive study is done to identify as many of the
contaminants related to industrial activities as possible and quantify those detected in the soil.
This can be done using matrices of activities and pollutants developed for potentially contaminated
site management (2).
The main families of pollutants found in contaminated sites are:
•hydrocarbons or mineral oil
•volatile aromatic and halogenated hydrocarbons
•polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
•dioxins and furans
•polychlorinated biphenyls and polychlorinated terphenyls
•phenols and chlorinated phenols
•surface active agents
•chemical substances for military use and explosives
•other organic chemicals such as: polar solvents (alcohols, ketones, aldehydes), aromatic and
aliphatic amines, chlorinated and nitrated benzene derivatives
Risk assessment can be done using the French Toxicological and Environmental data provided by
the National Institute for the Environment and Industrial Risk (INERIS - http://www.ineris.fr)
The National Health and Environment Plan (PNSE 2004-2008) has focused some actions on specific
•Action 11: Reduce water and soil pollution caused by pesticides and some potentially dangerous
substances (pharmaceutical drugs, hormone disrupting chemicals, etc.)
•Action 12: Prevent and reduce the specific risk due to exposure to mercury in French Guiana, and
to pesticides in Guadeloupe and Martinique
Since 2004, the Ministry in charge of the environment has led a National Action to determine the
impact on soils of lead emitted by industry
In application of the European Council Directive 96/61/EC concerning Integrated Pollution Prevention
and Control (IPPC), the French Ministerial Order of December 24, 2002 requires that owners of Classified
Installations declare, once a year, the amounts of pollutants they emit to the air, water and soil,
and waste they produce. The declaration can be done online at http://www.declarationpollution.ecologie.gouv.fr.
The information in the declaration is available to the public at: http://www.pollutionsindustrielles.ecologie.gouv.fr
The Circular of October 25, 2004 concerning Classified Installations and the National Health
and Environment Plan gives guidelines for the inspection of Classified Installations in order to:
•encourage the involvement of the entire Inspectorate in issues related to chronic risks
•give priority to actions that reduce environmental impact
The circular informs Prefects about future trends in French methodological guidelines for contaminated
sites and soil. The French approach has been confirmed: it is based on risk assessment and management
and on management as a function of site use. The notified actions must fit into a strategy framework
of management that results in the monitoring or mitigation of the site's impact on the environment
and take into account the actual use of the site. It also emphasizes the importance of security measures
As the number of organic compounds used or produced by industry is enormous, a systematic search
for all soil pollutants would be a disproportionate task. The European Directive 76/464 therefore
recommends looking for a list of priority substances. Most of these are listed according to their
physical and chemical properties such as volatility, or the presence of specific functions (halogen,
aromatic, etc.). Others were listed according to their use: pesticides, detergents, etc.
(1) Guide méthodologique pour l'analyse des sols pollués - Documents du BRGM 298 - R. Jeannot, B. Lemière,
S. Chiron avec la collaboration de F. Augustin et D. Darmendrail. 2001.
(2) Matrices activités-polluants - BRGM - Centre thématique de Lille/SGR Picardie - Décembre
(3) Portail Substances Chimiques de l'INERIS
(4) Plan National Santé-Environenment 2004-2008 - Ministère de la Santé et de la Protection Sociale,
Ministère de l'Ecologie et du Développement durable, Ministère de l'Emploi, du Travail et de la Cohésion
sociale, Ministère délégué à la Recherche