Why Clean Up Contaminated Sites?

September 12, 2010

A number of sites in British Columbia contain chemicals that cause damage to human health, the environment, and even underground services. Others pose a threat if they are not managed appropriately. Many of these are abandoned or underutilized commercial and industrial properties where there is an active potential for redevelopment. These types of sites are called “brownfields.”

  • What chemicals are found at these sites?

Heavy metals such as lead, arsenic, cadmium, and mercury are the most common inorganic substances found at sites in BC. Organic
chemicals, including benzene and toluene in gasoline, occur at about two-thirds of our sites. Chlorophenols are common at wood treatment
operations, as are benzo[a] pyrene and naphthalene from creosote. Poly-chlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) often occur at sites where electrical equipment has been in use.

  • What hazards do these chemicals pose?
  1. Human health – The potential effects of hazardous chemicals on humans range from minor physical symptoms to life-threatening diseases such as cancer. Children are often most at risk from exposure to contaminated soil, air, water, and food.
  2. Environmental health – Contaminated sites can seriously affect the environment by releasing chemicals that kill fish, impair the reproduction of birds, and contaminate the food web.
  3. Utilities and services – In several cases, chemical contamination has affected underground services. For example, short circuits in street lighting have been reported, the result of wire insulation being corroded by gasoline leaking from an underground tank.


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