Soil conditions: your obligations

Do you want to know the condition of the soil in a plot?

There are several ways to access this information.

1. The soil conditions inventory

The soil conditions inventory (FR) classifies land in the region into 5 categories (FR):

  • category 0: plots potentially polluted, which is to say plots on which a high-risk activity is or was exercised. This category also includes land subject to a presumption of pollution following accidents or abandonments involving polluting substances, following dissemination of the pollution from the neighbouring plot, etc.;

  • category 1: plots complying with clean-up standards;

  • category 2: plots meeting intervention standards but not clean-up standards;

  • category 3: plots not meeting the intervention standards, and for which the risks are or have been made tolerable;

  • category 4: plots not meeting intervention standards and to be treated or currently being treated, which is to say: being studied, undergoing clean up works, or subject to the introduction of risk management measures.

Land subject to a soil study belongs to categories 1 to 4, depending on the case. Land not having been assessed is in category 0. Land having been the subject of identification, even treatment, but on which high-risk activities are still carried out, will remain in category 0, which overlaps categories 1, 2, 3 or 4. 

2. The soil assessment

Consult the soil conditions map (FR)

Request a soil certificate (FR)

Practical guide to the soil certificate (FR)

3. Assessment of the soil conditions

The assessment of the soil conditions (FR) shows any pollution to the soil or the groundwater, to determine its severity and nature.

In some cases (see below), a soil assessment is compulsory. The ordinance of 5 March 2009 (FR) concerning the management and clean-up of polluted soils sets out the situations in which a soil assessment is required. 

What should you do if you discover soil pollution?

Any discovery of pollution must be reported (FR) to the owner or right-holder of the plot and to the operator (except Environment Brussels).  These individuals are required to inform Environment Brussels immediately.

Anyone causing an event likely to lead to pollution must inform Environment Brussels of this as soon as possible. 

Planning to sell a property?

Before signing the sale agreement, you must inform the buyer of the soil conditions. Your notary will ask Environment Brussels for a soil certificate for the plot being sold.

NB: some private acts are exempt (FR) from this obligation

If the certificate shows that the soil is considered polluted, you must proceed with a soil condition assessment. If the soil condition assessment confirms that the soil is polluted, the vendor must manage or treat the pollution before being able to see the property. However, the sale can take place subject to fulfilling certain conditions (FR) and with prior approval from Environment Brussels.

For more information, see theEnvironment Brussels brochure "Selling a property" (FR)

Do you need an environmental permit for a high-risk activity?

The future operator of a high-risk activity (FR) must carry out a soil condition assessment before obtaining an environmental permit. This soil assessment forms an integral part of the environmental permit application.

Other situations require a soil assessment beforehand:

  • before the cessation of a high-risk activity;

  • before the assignment of an environmental permit for a high-risk activity;

  • before the issue of an environmental permit extension for a high-risk activity; 

  • periodically for certain high-risk activities, according to a frequency set by the government; 

  • before any new high-risk activity on a site.

But also:

  • if pollution is discovered during excavation works, or when an event having caused soil pollution occurs on the land;

  • before any new activity, requiring either a planning permit or an environmental permit for land identified as polluted, or for which there is presumed pollution according to the inventory carried out by Bruxelles Environnement, likely to hinder the clean up or subsequent control of the soil pollution.

Are there any exemptions from the requirement for a soil assessment? Yes, in certain cases. More info (FR)

Based on the conclusions of the soil assessment performed by the approved soil expert, if the pollution exceeds the limits set by the standards, Bruxelles Environnement will indicate that it is time to move to the next stage: a detailed study (FR). The detailed study will determine the severity and type of pollution. 

Sometimes the soil assessment and detailed study can be performed one after the other: we talk about joint studies in this case.  Bruxelles-Environnement-IGBE has 30 days from receiving the two joint studies to declare them compliant (declaration of compliance) or impose additions to be notified to them with a reasonable deadline.

And then?

More info on possible next steps: risk management (FR) and clean up (FR). Some videos can also be helpful.

Subsidies

For operational companies, a consultancy subsidy (feasibility study) may be requested from the regional budget of subsidies for economic expansion to proceed with the soil assessment or detailed study.

And what about the innocent owner not having operated a high-risk activity? They may, under certain conditions, receive a regional subsidy (decree of 20th March 2014) to partially finance a study on soil pollution.

We should mention the "Brussels Greenfields" intervention fund here. This fund aims to support the clean-up of polluted land in the Canal zone provided that it is the subject of an economic project creating jobs.

The BOFAS fund is intended to help with the decontamination of former service stations. 

Updated 28/07/2017

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