National Environmental Standards

The National Environmental Standards (NES) for Assessing and Managing Contaminants in Soil to Protect Human Health took effect in January 2012. The NES are mandatory standards which function under the Resource Management Act 1991(RMA).

The focus of the NES is to protect human health. Contaminants are a problem when they are at a concentration and a place where they have, or are reasonably likely to have, an adverse effect on human health and the environment. Contaminants pose a greater risk where they are near buildings, people, and when they are in soil in which food is grown.

Regional and District Councils are required to implement the NES in order to ensure ‘land affected by contaminants in soil is appropriately identified and assessed when soil disturbance and/or land development activities take place and, if necessary, remediated or the contaminants contained to make the land safe for human use’ (NES 2012).

Under the NES, land is considered to be actually or potentially contaminated if an activity or industry on the Hazardous Activities or Industries List (HAIL) was, is, or is more than likely to have been, undertaken on that land. Further information on the HAIL list along with a list of the hazardous substances or contaminants typically associated with each activity or industry can be obtained from the following link;

Common HAIL activities and industries leading to contamination of properties in New Zealand include, among others:

  • the manufacture and use of pesticides (i.e. commercial spray contractors, some horticultural and agricultural practices);
  • the production, storage and use of petroleum (fuel) products;
  • timber treatment; and
  • sheep dipping.

The contaminants in soil left by these activities and industries include:

  • pesticides (such as DDT, DDD, and dieldrin);
  • metals (such as arsenic, chromium, copper, lead and mercury);
  • hydrocarbon compounds (derived from petroleum and plastics).

The NES takes into account the former, current and proposed land use and the resulting potential for contaminants. An initial NES assessment or Preliminary Site Investigation (PSI) on HAIL land should be undertaken if you intend to do one of five activities:

  • Removing or replacing a fuel storage system,
  • Sampling the soil,
  • Disturbing the soil,
  • Subdividing land, and
  • Changing the use of the land.

The NES requires that a ‘suitably qualified and experienced practitioner’ certify preliminary and, if required, any follow-up investigation (Detailed Site Investigation) reports. This person is independent, applies good professional practice, and reports against contaminated land and industry guidelines.

Please contact NZ Environmental to establish if the NES applies for the land and activities proposed.

Cale taking soil samples for planned waste water treatment plant in Kerikeri.

Danette collecting soil samples.

Site validation sampling after removal of contaminated soils.