Farmers will soon be required to take responsibility for contamination of their land, thanks to amendments to both the National Building Regulations Act and the Waste Bill. Farmers will soon be required to take responsibility for contamination of their land, thanks to amendments to both the National Building Regulations Act and the Waste Bill.
Tina Costas, a senior associate at a leading law firm, Garlicke & Bousfield Inc, said that in the Regulations contaminated land is defined as “any land that due to substances contained within or under it, is in a condition that presents an unacceptable risk to the health and safety of occupants or the building”. Now, according to The National Building Regulations Amendment Bill, which came into effect on 1 October 2008, if a farmer wants to build a new structure, and they or the authorities have reason to believe the development site is contaminated, the farmer must appoint an approved, competent person to undertake a geotechnical investigation.
Costas said The Waste Bill, still to be promulgated, defines contamination as concentrations of substances or microorganisms, at levels above normal, which directly or indirectly hurt the quality of the environment. The Bill requires a landowner to notify an authority when land is significantly contaminated, or if they undertake an activity that causes contamination.
They will then have to appoint, and pay, an independent person to conduct an site assessment and produce an extensive report. Authorities may then order the landowner to rehabilitate the land. If contaminated land is transferred, the buyer must be informed of the possible contamination. If the land is declared a remediation site, authorities will also have to be notified about the transfer.
Various concerns have been raised over the amendments. “Without extensive historical records, how do you determine the concentrations of substances and microorganism ‘normally’ present?” asked Costas. “Without threshold limits as a guide, overburdened authorities again recieve legislation that’s all bones and no meat.”
Nic Opperman, director of natural resources at Agri SA, feels the amendments won’t be sustainable due to government’s lack of resources and expertise to enforce environmental regulations. He said that instead of adopting a policing role, government should provide farmers with incentives, such as tax breaks, to promote and motivate sustainable practices. – Glenneis Erasmus