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In an inventory of contaminated land sites carried out by the Irish EPA in 1999 and presented in a CARACAS publication, the number of contaminated land sites in Ireland was conservatively estimated at a relatively modest 2,000 to 2,500. This number was derived from an inventory of contaminated land sites in the petroleum retail sector, at various industrial sites, at closed landfill sites, timber treatment yards, scrap yards, railway yards and former gasworks sites. In comparison, the number of contaminated land sites in the UK is estimated at possibly over 100,000. It is stated that the number of brownfield sites or facilities with contaminated land legacies in Ireland is significantly less in Ireland than those of most other more industrialized European countries such as the UK, due to Ireland’s relative late arrival into the industrial age. The Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) carried out an inventory of potentially contaminated land and have stated in 2011 that they have identified a number in excess of 14,000 sites. This number was revised upwards from 12,000 in 2009. Mulroy Environmental carried out an 'in-house' inventory of key industrial sectors. This in-house inventory suggests that the NIEA contaminated land database number is correct. As such, it is likely that the Rep. of Ireland has over twice the number of potentially contaminated sites as that of Northern Ireland i.e. >30,000.
The value of having an inventory of potentially contaminated land available to the public appears to have been underestimated within the Republic of Ireland. A review of the introduction of environmental legislation in the Republic over the past 20 years (particularly the Waste Management Act, 1996) would indicate that there is an unease within the regulators at the introduction of a freely available inventory. The primary reason for this would appear to be a fear within regulators of drawing the wrath of the property development and real estate sectors due to ‘property blight’. A secondary reason would appear to be legal ambiguity over the true purpose of Sections 22 and Section 26 of the Waste Management Act, 1996.
The value of having a publically administered GIS based system which would list properties that have been potentially contaminated in the past can not be argued against. This list would ideally draw on the extensive experience of the UK Environmental Agency with regard to work previously carried out on various industrial sectors (i.e. the EA have drawn up a list of 30 industrial profiles). This would provide potential buyers with a clear indicator of whether a Phase I Site Audit should be carried out by an environmental consultant as part of Pre-purchase Due Diligence work. The scenario of an investor or developer purchasing a property in the Republic of Ireland that has, after contract completion turned out to have contamination is very common. This is a scenario that can be avoided.