NL-7 :: Soil quality

In the next few years, the Dutch soil remediation operation comes to an end. Many sites are investigated and remediated, including most of the urgent sites. The next step is the management phase, aimed at contaminations that cannot be excavated, and that have a risk to spread. This phase focuses on innovative management of these sites, e.g. on the application of different in-situ techniques and risk-, area-based management of contaminated groundwater. The soil protection act and all underlying instruments will be integrated in the Environment and Planning Act. Expectations are that the Environment and Planning Act will be empowered in 2018.
Currently, the major responsibility for soil (and soil includes groundwater) is being decentralised. In the Environment and Planning Act, “care for good soil quality” will be integrated in “care for the environment”. There is now more awareness that soil quality is more than complying with standards for chemical substances. It is also a measure for the sustainable functioning of ecosystems (ecological, chemical en physical quality), “fitness for use” and soil protection.
The link with spatial development is vital to the future of soil remediation in the Netherlands, as new ways of soil usage will initiate additional funding for remediation activities, especially if these can be combined with another land use, e.g. aquifer thermal energy storage (ATES). Soil remediation unrelated to spatial development is becoming redundant and is replaced by sustainable land management. The main transitions in soil management and the scope for soil quality are:
• from central (national government) to decentralized (municipality)
• from sectorial (soil) to holistic (environment)
• from protection to sustainable use
• from soil remediation to land management
• from standardizing (comply with standards) to ambitions
• from clean to fit for use
• from chemical quality to “overall” quality
• from controlled and known contaminants to new contaminants and threats
• from current use to future use
This is all work in progress. Although the research needs is changing, it is important to maintain the knowledge base on soil remediation in the Netherlands. A strong and innovative soil sector remains significant. Dealing with historic contamination is still on the agenda, mainly in terms of organisation and financing. Also new contaminants pose possible risks. In practice, it can be very difficult to comply with national and European regulation. Sustainable transformation from brownfield to productive land is a challenging topic. This all asks for research efforts.

Specific research questions:
• How can soil quality management and care be connected to other topics such as climate adaptation, reuse and redevelopment of brownfields?
• How can soil protection contribute to the protection of strategic groundwater resources?
Natural capital
• Which (new) contaminants remain a (potential) risk to health (drinking water) or ecosystems?
• What entails the presence of substances alien to the system for the quality and resilience (biological control) and other qualities and functions of the soil-sediment-water system?
• How do soil, sediment and water and the substances inside interact (soil-sediment-water system)?
• What is the potential of the soil and subsurface to produce medicine or for natural attenuation of contaminants and how can this potential be deployed?
Land management
• How do we deal with (new) contaminations in groundwater and drinking water (measuring, monitoring and remediating, fitting it into the existing structure of the management of clean and slightly contaminated soils)?
• How can the ""governance"" of soil quality care be improved in terms of organization, after-care, professional commissioning, organization, law enforcement and supervision?
• What tools are needed to support the new soil quality care (including soil protection)?
• How can contaminated land / remediation be combined with other activities and contribute to area ambitions?
• How can dredging and earthmoving become more sustainable?
• How can the reuse of brownfields (economic, social, cultural) be encouraged?
• How can landfills be considered in land management and regional planning?
• Which (new, innovative, sustainable, (cost) effective) remediation and monitoring techniques can be further developed?
Net impacts
• How to assess risks of changing use of soil, water and land connected with the quality (more unsealed soils, swimming in canals with clean water, but contaminated sediment)? And what do these risks mean in relation to the societal needs?
• How can we integrate risk assessment of soil and groundwater contamination in risk assessment for the overall environment?
• How can results (efforts) of soil quality care (continuous improvement) be monitored (which indicators)?