Critical Evaluation of the New UK’s LCRM Release: A Step Forward or a Misstep?

The Ebb and Flow of the New Release

The UK Environment Agency has recently released the new version of the Land Contamination Risk Management (LCRM) on 20th July 2023. This much-anticipated release has invited attention from all quarters, predominantly, contractors, environmentalists and those affiliated with the remediation of pollution and contaminated land.

However, amidst the flurry of changes and updates, one key update has managed to generate significant discussion and speculation. The document indicates that sections concerned with the “Qualitative assessment of risks in the preliminary risk assessment, Generic quantitative risk assessment, and Detailed quantitative risk assessment” are not tailored to manage newly arising pollution. Instead, these elements focus on providing a risk assessment method to determine if the risk from existing contamination is unacceptable.

This shift in focus, although seemingly straightforward, holds drastic implications for those at the frontline of managing these incidents of pollution, particularly, contractors.

The murky waters of this new change pose the question of standard guidelines – Is there currently an absence of clearly defined standards explaining how comprehensively a contaminated site should be remediated?

Furthermore, it stirs up the debate on the relevance of a risk-based approach versus a pre-loss condition. In other words, should remediation efforts aim at effectively managing identified risks or strive purely for pre-contamination status?

This change seems to impede contractors in understanding the ideal approach for remediating new pollution incidents, creating a potential stumbling block in their operations. That’s where we must pause and ask ourselves – What could this mean for the future of environmental safety management?

Diving into the “Common Sense Approach”

As we delve deeper into the changes posed by the new LCRM release, we confront the situation contractors are currently facing – an ambiguous line between risk-based remediation and a pre-loss condition.

Initially, adopting the “Common Sense Approach,” using a risk-based method such as the Land Quality Management’s (LQM) Suitable 4 Use Levels (S4UL) assessment criteria, seems appropriate and efficient. As a booster, this particular method aligns well with the new LCRM’s emphasis on risk assessment. But here’s the paradox – is it sufficient, and more critically, is it universally applicable for all situations?

Unfortunately, the answer isn’t a simple “yes” or “no.” This approach could open contractors aiming for pre-loss conditions to criticism. The dilemma arises as the idea of returning a site to its pre-loss condition might sound comprehensive. Still, the practicality and necessity of executing this are muffled in uncertainty, thanks to the glaring lack of clear guidelines in the new release.

This dichotomy creates a potential predicament – contractors are torn between a sophisticated risk-based approach and the ambitious pursuit of pre-loss conditions without any concrete guidance, a scenario that might detrimentally impact the management of new pollution incidents.

In summary— the new LCRM release seems to have missed the mark in establishing a clear stance between risk-based remediation and achieving pre-loss conditions. This lack of clarity leaves room for criticism and potential complications.

As environmental challenges continue to grow and change, it remains to be seen how these changes will cater to handling new pollution incidents. What is evident, though, is that the quest for concrete guidelines and practical clarity is both necessary and urgent to ensure the continued protection and conservation of our precious environmental resources.

The Way Forward – Scaling the Right Mountain

In the absence of concrete guidelines, it would arguably be expedient to adopt a risk-based approach, even when dealing with new pollution incidents. Prima facie, the rationale behind this notion is quite clear – it’s a tried, tested, and scientifically driven method. The risk-based approach, backed by robust assessment scales like the LQM S4ULs, presents a practical and financially efficient solution. It puts the focus on managing and mitigating unacceptable risks rather than embarking on a potentially Quixotic quest for complete restoration.

Contractors who are striving for a return to pre-loss condition without direct guidelines are arguably “making a mountain out of a molehill”. Pursuing Himalayan-sized tasks when molehills are the challenge at hand can result in an unnecessary drain on resources and may hinder efficiency. While the proposition to revert a site to its pre-contamination state is seemingly ideal, it could thrust stakeholders into bearing unjustifiably elevated costs for remediation processes.

More crucially, such efforts might be unnecessarily exhaustive, primarily when the contamination in question doesn’t pose any demonstrable risk to public health or the environment. Why attempt to rebuild the mountain when mitigating the molehills would suffice for safeguarding public health, the environment, and economic resources all at once?

The essence of risk-based remediation lies in its practical approach and keen perception of actual needs and potential harms. It seamlessly blends scientific understanding, legal requirements, and realistic goals, thereby providing the best possible outcomes without overstretching the resources or causing undue distress.

While the revised LCRM may lack explicit guidelines, one thing is clear – adapting, evolving, and aligning our approach is crucial. As we navigate this changing landscape, embracing risk-based remediation seems the sensible road to travel. Respectful of boundaries, focused on the dangers that matter, and cost-efficient, it helps us not only scale the right mountain but also realize that tackling the molehills might be the more enlightened solution we were seeking.

That way forward lies in taming the mountains…and long may we continue our journey.

Published: 21 August 2023