Quebec has not always been proactive when it comes to environmental regulations. It’s only recently that a number of laws have been passed to better regulate human activities that can contaminate the soil.

In the course of initiatives to mitigate soil pollution, a large number of contaminated sites have been identified, and several have been remediated. However, many contaminated sites have yet to be found, and some are undoubtedly in residential areas.
Are you wondering whether you have been living on contaminated land for years without knowing it? In this article, our contaminated soil remediation specialists explain how to find out for sure, and what to do if there are contaminants on your property.


What is contaminated soil?

Soil contaminated with toxic substances can be hazardous to health and the environment. The government has set limits on the amount of these toxins allowed in soil. These limits are often exceeded due to factors such as increased industrial development, landfills, oil tank spills, and so on.

As a result, toxic substances in the soil can contaminate groundwater (an important source of drinking water for many people), but also cause plants to take up harmful chemicals, which can then be passed on to animals and humans who eat those plants.

 For this reason, it is important to take preventive measures and various methods can be used to remediate contaminated soil. 


Types of contaminants found in residential areas

A variety of contaminants can be found in residential areas. Some are more prevalent in certain parts of Quebec, particularly in urban areas:

Of course, these pollutants vary in toxicity and the dangers they present depending on their concentration and the depth at which they are located.

Note that the list presented above is not exhaustive, meaning that a property could have none of these pollutants and still be contaminated.

Steps to take to detect contaminated soil

1. Check public registries and databases that list contaminated sites

If you want to conduct your own investigation to find out whether your residential property is contaminated, there are public documents you can consult for information.

The Ministère de l’Environnement et de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques (Ministry of the Environment and the Fight Against Climate Change) regularly updates its inventory of contaminated sites. The inventory provides general and technical information on lands contaminated by industrial and commercial activities or accidental spills. It also includes information on land that has been remediated. Cities like Montreal also provide lists of contaminated sites.

 You can also find information in the following public registries and databases:

• Federal inventory
• Land register
• Lists of former dump sites
• Urgence-Environnement’s environmental emergency response registry
• Inventory of soil and industrial waste disposal sites
• Interactive pipeline map
• Fire insurance plans

 Remember that even if your property doesn’t appear in any of these documents, it may still be contaminated.

 2. Test for pollutants and determine soil contamination levels

There are indications of soil contamination you can look for yourself. Examples include the smell of fuel and signs of a buried oil tank.

However, you may need to use more scientific methods to confirm your suspicions.  
Here are the types of tests that can be used to detect contaminants in the soil, determine their type and measure their level of concentration.

Ground-penetrating radar (GPR)  

If there isn’t too much clay in the soil, a GPR test can be used to determine whether there is an old oil tank buried on-site. This test is a technique that allows us to obtain information on the subsoil, to evaluate the pavement and detect buried objects quickly and accurately.

Soil sampling 

Soil sampling consists of collecting a sample of the soil on your land and having it analyzed to determine whether it’s contaminated.

It’s important to note that this method is not as comprehensive as an environmental site assessment and you are responsible for deciding where to collect the sample.

Historical investigation of environmental risks (Phase 1 ESA)

The historical investigation is phase 1 of an environmental site assessment (ESA). It involves compiling a complete history of the environmental risks associated with the property in question from before its construction to present.

 Soil analysis (Phase 2 ESA)

Soil characterization is the second step in the environmental site assessment. This step involves taking soil samples and sending them to a laboratory for analysis. The purpose of this step is to determine if there is more contamination on the property than is allowed by law. This depends on the criteria set by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change.

The number and depth of soil samples taken, as well as the parameters tested, depend on the risks identified in Phase 1. If the results of a Phase 2 analysis reveal significant contamination, further testing may be required. 

Toxicology and ecotoxicology assessment 

The purpose of a toxicology and ecotoxicology assessment is to determine whether exposure to the contaminants present on a given property may endanger the health of its occupants or the environment. It would be premature to have this test done without confirmation that your property actually contains contaminants.  

What to do if your land is contaminated

If a soil analysis conducted by professionals has revealed that your land is contaminated, you have the right to do nothing (depending on the circumstances), take legal action if you think you have been wronged, or proceed with soil remediation.

You aren’t necessarily required to decontaminate your land if tests reveal that it is polluted, but you will need to disclose it if and when you decide to sell your property. 

Decontaminating the land

 Although there are many different ways to remediate contaminated land (in situ decontamination, phytoremediation, etc.) in Quebec, excavating the contaminated soil and disposing of it at an authorized site is the method that is fastest, most commonly used, and tends to be the least expensive. 

 The cost of the work varies depending on the extent of the contamination, the type of contaminant and the proximity of the disposal site. 

Possible recourse

Depending on the situation, you may have legal recourse to hold someone else responsible for the contamination of your property and the expense of remediating it:

• Hidden defects
• Legal warranty of ownership and quality
• Real estate malpractice
• Municipal tort liability

Consult a lawyer to find out more about your options for legal recours 

Need land remediated? Contact Enviro Urgence

If your concerns about contaminants on your property have been confirmed by a soil analysis, our team can help you manage the situation.

At  Enviro Urgence, we offer customized soil decontamination services that follow regulatory requirements and include the extraction, transportation and disposal of contaminated soil.

Contact us toll free at 1 877-437-5559 to find out more about our services or request a quote online