Soil is a complex mixture of minerals, organic matter, water and various life forms. It was originally free of contaminants, but over the last few centuries, humans have either intentionally or accidentally released toxic substances into the soil in some areas.

Soil analysis is used to determine whether a site has been contaminated by pollutants or hazardous materials.

In this article, our environmental services experts present reasons for conducting a soil analysis and the phases of assessment, which are carried out on-site and in the laboratory.

Reasons for conducting a soil analysis

There are a variety of reasons for analyzing the condition of soil and determining whether it is contaminated.

To find out whether a site is contaminated by pollutants

The main reason to conduct a soil analysis is to determine whether pollutants are present in the soil at a given site. Soil analysis can indicate the presence of various types of contaminants, such as chemicals, organic matter, heavy metals and hydrocarbons.

Since environmental and land protection laws in Quebec used to be very lenient, it’s not unusual to find contaminated sites in industrial areas. Even residential areas can be affected by contaminants such as coal, fuel oil from heating systems, other hydrocarbons and industrial backfill, all of which can be detected by soil analysis. 

Note that Quebec’s Ministère de l’environnement et de la lutte contre les changements climatiques has put together a list of contaminated sites (in French only). The list may contain important information about the soil quality of a site you’re interested in, but it does not detract from the usefulness of a soil analysis.

To meet the requirements of mortgage lenders

If you are planning to build a house or commercial building, conduct a real estate transaction, or refinance property, you will need to make sure that the soil is safe. This is not just a precaution—it may in fact be a legal obligation.

Most mortgage lenders will ask for proof that the land is not contaminated before approving a loan. Therefore, you will need to have a phase 1 assessment done in order to identify any risks caused by the presence of contaminants. (the phases will be covered in more depth later in this text).

To avoid trouble related to buying or selling a property with contaminated soil

Buying or selling a building without considering the condition of the land can become a nightmare if contaminants are found in the soil following the real estate transaction. This type of situation can result in a legal dispute between buyer and seller.

The buyer could file a lawsuit claiming that there was a hidden defect, which the seller would probably refute in order to avoid having to pay to decontaminate the land and remediate contaminated soil

Now that you have a better understanding of why soil analyses are so important, you may be wondering how they are performed. 

Generally speaking, there are four phases to a soil analysis. Each phase offers a progressively higher level of precision regarding soil composition and contaminants.

Going through all four phases is not always necessary.

Phase 1

Phase 1, also known as a Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment, involves visiting the site and gathering information to determine whether there is any risk of finding contaminants in the soil. 

Useful sources of information for a phase 1 assessment can include pictures, geological and hydrological maps, studies, reports, interviews, and more.

The cost of a phase 1 soil analysis depends on the size of the site, whether or not there are buildings, and other geological and environmental factors. 

Phase 2

Phase 2 of a soil analysis is also called preliminary environmental characterization and is needed when phase 1 reveals risks of soil contamination. 

Phase 2 involves collecting samples of the soil and groundwater via boreholes or exploration wells. Then, the samples undergo chemical analysis. This phase conclusively determines the presence or absence of contaminants and specifies their type and concentration.

The cost of phase 2 varies based on the type of soil on-site, the nature of the contaminated land and environmental factors. 

Phase 3

Phase 3 of a soil analysis involves additional surveys to determine the extent of the contamination, the volume of contaminated soil and the concentration of contaminants. It also includes planning decontamination measures.

The number of samples, type of soil and parameters analyzed are factors that will affect the cost of phase 3.

Phase 4

Phase 4 is the environmental rehabilitation of the contaminated site. It is necessary when the concentration of contaminants detected at a given site exceeds the criteria established by the Ministère de l’environnement et de la lutte contre les changements climatiques. 

This can be accomplished by excavating and disposing of contaminated soil and water at authorized sites or, in some cases, carrying out in-situ remediation. 

The cost of the fourth and final phase varies depending on the extent and nature of the contamination, the treatment method chosen and how far away the disposal site is.

EBI Enviro Urgence specializes in contaminated soil remediation

There are many reasons to conduct a soil analysis. If it proves that there is no contamination, then you will be able to rest easy. However, if it determines that a site contains a large or small quantity of hazardous materials, steps will need to be taken to decontaminate the land.

If that’s the case, EBI Enviro Urgence can help. We offer customized soil decontamination services that meet the requirements of the relevant authorities. Our services include extraction, transportation and disposal of contaminated soil.  

Contact us to find out more or request a quote!