Contaminated areas

Soil, groundwater and sediment

Soil contamination refers to reduced soil quality due to harmful substances resulting from human activity. This may endanger or harm human health or the environment, impair the amenities of the area, or otherwise violate private or public interests.

Contamination of groundwater refers to changes in groundwater which may endanger or harm health or the environment, or otherwise violate the public of private interests of other parties. Contamination also refers to reduced groundwater quality in groundwater areas suitable for water abstraction or a situation where groundwater in a property of another party becomes unsuitable for the purposes for which it might otherwise have been used.

The process of remediating contaminated soil and groundwater comprises the investigation, assessment and monitoring of the negative impacts and risks involved and measures to either eliminate or significantly reduce them. Sediments in water bodies may also be contaminated and require to be remediated. Often the need to remediate sediments arises when dredging is carried out in contaminated areas.

The Ministry of the Environment steers the preparation and development of legislation and national guidelines concerning the remediation of contaminated areas. The Ministry provides support to the reconditioning of contaminated sites in cases where the cause of the damage is unknown or the party causing the damage is unable to cover the costs involved. Financial support for remediation operations is available e.g. through the research and restoration project of the Finnish Oil Pollution Compensation Fund (‘Jaska’) and the State aid scheme that came into force on 1 January 2020.

Framework for remediation in the legislation and national strategy and guidelines

Legislation provides a framework for the treatment of contaminated soil and groundwater. The prohibition of any action that may contaminate soil and groundwater and the general principles of the Environmental Protection Act aim to prevent contamination or, if full prevention is not possible, reduce the environmental impact of harmful substances to the minimum.

The acts and decrees also lay down provisions on the assessment of contaminated areas and need for remediation in such areas, division of the responsibility for the remediation operations, permits required for the operations, and the notification obligation when selling or renting out property.

The key objectives concerning contaminated areas and the needs and means relating to the actions to be taken have been specified in the national risk management strategy for contaminated land in Finland. The strategy also includes a national research and restoration programme.

The Ministry of the Environment has issued guidelines on the risk assessment and sustainable risk management of contaminated soils. The Ministry’s guidelines on sediment dredging and deposition are also intended to be applied with regard to remediation dredging.

Tasks of the authorities

The Ministry of the Environment is responsible for the overall developments of the management of contaminated areas. In matters related to soil contamination, the responsibility mainly rests with the Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment, which also process the notifications concerning remediation. Environmental permits concerning remediation are processed by the Regional State Administrative Agency. In the Cities of Helsinki and Turku, the responsibility for the remediation of contaminated soil has been transferred from central government authorities to municipal environmental protection authorities.

Soil state database

In order to identify contaminated areas, the authorities have conducted a survey of areas where operations are being or have been carried out that may cause harmful substances to enter the soil. In such areas the need for assessing the contamination and for remediation often arises in situations where operations that may cause environmental harm are discontinued, when land use in the area changes, when an area that may be contaminated becomes subject to a corporate or property transaction, or when elevated concentrations of pollutants or adverse effects are observed in the environment.

Data on areas which may be contaminated or have been declared contaminated, or which have been remediated and declared clean is now available in the soil state database created by the environmental administration for managing area-specific soil contamination.

More information

Nina Lehtosalo, Senior Specialist 
Ministry of the Environment, Ympäristönsuojeluosasto, Päästöt ja ympäristöriskit 0295250400