Ground Contamination: a Problem not to be Ignored
Ground is considered contaminated when there are substances, including pollutants that are a risk to humans or the environment.
Ground contaminants found on a residential property can come from a variety of sources. These may include fire ashes that were buried on the site, coal deposits from back when houses were heated with coal, fuel oil (also known as heating oil), residual materials from former quarries that were used as landfills, or industrial waste from former foundries that produced backfill for roads or residential lots.
According to the Business Development Bank of Canada, “these materials are dangerous because they can seep into the soil, groundwater, or other buildings; cause fires, explosions, and unpleasant odors; be harmful to human life or the environment; or, in extreme cases, cause the soil to lose its ability to retain water or recycle nutrients.”
How to protect yourself
The first step is to work with a broker who knows the area and its history well and who will be upfront about disclosing contamination risks. Your real estate broker can help you view and interpret interactive maps showing where contaminated sites are located.
It’s also a good idea to contact the local or provincial government to find out more about your lot’s history.
Lastly, your broker can refer you to an environmental assessment specialist. This type of assessment is now routinely required by financial institutions and should be recommended for anyone who owns an older home.
How do you know when cleanup is required?
If the buyer or seller discovers contamination, several questions need to be asked:
-Who is responsible for cleanup? Is the contamination a latent defect?
-Is there a potential risk of future liability? For example, contamination of a neighbor’s lot or liability for a latent defect.
-How might contamination affect the property value?
-Is the cleanup cost worth it? Are the environmental and health risks or the risk of a drop in the home’s value so great that cleanup is a must?
-After cleanup, will the property be fit for purpose as planned?
Once you’ve considered each of these questions, you’ll be fully informed and ready to decide what to do about your contamination issue.